173 Holland America Volendam Cruise Reviews

I have been on over sixty cruises to include many Holland America Cruises. I will attempt to review this cruise and provide what I hope will be some information to assist other cruisers and perhaps even get Holland to rethink some of ... Read More
I have been on over sixty cruises to include many Holland America Cruises. I will attempt to review this cruise and provide what I hope will be some information to assist other cruisers and perhaps even get Holland to rethink some of their planning for future cruises. The ship: Volendam is a very nice ship that carries 1400 passengers. Our cruise was not full and I would estimate maybe 1200 or so. The ship was recently refurbished with all new softgoods..carpets/upholstery/drapes, beds etc. It is in very good condition and is plenty big without being some 4000 passenger monster. The self service laundry is nice for long trips....wash $2....dry $1 ...us quarters avail at front desk and free soap in machines...good machines. Avoid lines by doing laundry late night or on port days. Typical Holland library with a good selection of books. Internet is available at usual cruise super inflated prices of 75 cents a minute though they do have "plans" that come out cheaper if you buy a block of time. The wifi signal seems to cover the entire ship so if you absolutely MUST surf the web and don't mind the prices you can do it from your stateroom. As usual the Holland Indonesian/Filipino staff is always smiling and provides some of the best most gracious service of any cruise line. And the Dutch officers are their usual efficient selves. The Passengers; One of the YOUNGEST Holland cruises I have experienced. About 80 teens on board with many families with children but were all amazingly well behaved . Much more international than most Holland cruises with perhaps only half of the passengers Americans. Many aussies, kiwis, brits. Euros and even a group of about 40 Russians along with a good size group of Asians from Hong Kong, Singapore, etc. The Food: Typical Holland cruise with good food at the Lido , the two level dining room, the pinnacle (25$) the Italian restaurant which is part of lido (10$). Room service simple quick and good as well. This cruise had only one or two outdoor pool side buffets which seemed strange as the weather was perfect and most Holland cruises have more. You can choose fixed dining times in the top level of the dining room or dine as you wish in the bottom. I never had to wait more than a minute or two for a table as long as you are willing to share. The menu selections were fine but frankly seemed not as varied as other Holland cruises Service was very good all except one night when it was slow.. Nice burgers/tacos/etc available out by the pool. The entertainment: Some of the worst I have seen on a Holland cruise. Most consisted of a single guitar player or sax player or singer which was more suited/expected as a lounge act and certainly not a HEADLINER. Not sure if Holland is trying to skimp but it really was pitiful. The entertainers were reasonably talented but again they seemed more suited to the lounges. Only at Laem Chabang Thailand did they bring on local entertainers who were all adults and seemed to be a hit with the passengers. UNFORTUNATELY in my estimation Holland SHOULD bring on local school kids in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand who would be thrilled to come aboard and sing/dance etc...the kids are dirt poor and it would have been VERY easy for Holland to arrange that via their local port operator and NO DOUBT the passengers would have LOVED it and likely would have been happy to throw a few dollars into a collection to help out some very poor kids. PLEASE Holland consider doing this in the future. The kids might not be as "professional" but that is what makes them so special to see their eyes light up and their pride in performing their local cultures songs/dances...give them a ship tour and let them eat in the buffet line and it would make a big impression on them and the guests. No lectures/professors at all which again seems to be a new skimping by Holland. With all the history of the ports we visited it would have been nice to have a few lectures by a knowledgeable expert .....cost is minimal to Holland and again would have been welcome by the passengers. Best "lecture" was done by the hotel manager who did a one hour presentation with pictures showing how the volendam was refurbished in 14 days which is truly a herculean task...excellent presentation. Other: Seems to me the Holland newsletter has gone downhill...a new format is in place but gives very very little info on the entertainers/staff etc. Typical is the person's name and he is a "guitarist" etc. Surely this can be done better. Port info: As is usual the port info handouts are simply AWFUL. Not so much as the approximate exchange rate is given much less any info as to where to find wifi etc which MANY guests want to know. Very little or NO information as to local transport options. Again it seems to be all about pushing people to buy the Holland tours and be led around like children on some overpriced long bus tour. If you prefer to explore on your own you are truly on your own and should do your own research in advance. Sorry if this review highlights too many negatives as it truly is a wonderful cruise and as an experienced cruiser I am able to navigate around the problems with little or no hassles...but many of the passengers are novice cruisers and the items I mention cause problems and complaints. It certainly does SEEM to me that Holland since being taken over by carnival is more about squeezing every penny more than ever before although in fairness Holland is WAY WAY better at not nickel and diming you to death than royal Caribbean/princess/carnival etc. The Itinerary/Ports: Hong Kong: Flew into Hong Kong two days early. Very easy bus transfer for $5 usd or so that took me right to the Park hotel in Kowloon. Excellent hotel with very very good location. Paid about $165 a night. Only disappointment was they wanted another 20 usd for wifi usage. In fact all over Hong Kong wifi is amazingly NOT EASY to find for free as it is the vast majority of modern cities. Even though McDonalds etc claims free wifi you must have some local Hong Kong system to use it. Did finally find a simple little coffee shop near the hotel that had it. (take back exit turn right and about 50 meters up on left is a coffee shop). Hong Kong has a great subway system and easy to get around. For a treat go to the soho area on Hong Kong island which is built on the side of a cliff and is all bars and restaurants and the main area for expats. Star ferry of course also close by and easy to get to hong kong island. Taxi to the ship was easy and inexpensive. LONG lines to board the ship at 1 pm. For some unknown reason Holland had decided to hand out a one page info sheet regarding the visas you would need for china/Vietnam/Cambodia and Thailand. In all my cruises I have never seen such a poorly written single piece of paper that managed to totally confuse most every single passenger. You had to check if you wanted an "individual or group" visa with no explanation. The group visas were about $20 each cheaper than the individual. In addition they first said you needed a visa for sanya though that was clearly incorrect for most nationalities. Bottom line was I checked group visas and saved about $60 or more usd while those who checked the more OBVIOUS individual visa paid extra and in the end it MADE NO DIFFERENCE AT ALL as I was certainly not a "group" but had no problem. NEVER any explanation or refund to those who checked and paid more for group. Why Holland could not provide the visa info in the online tour docs is a mystery but they sure managed to confuse the hell out of most all passengers and slow down the embarkation as people naturally were confused. All total I ended up paying about $125 for the necessary visas while others paid close to $200. Sailing away from Hong Kong is very beautiful with lots and lots of nice lights. Sanya China: Holland provided a free shuttle into town but did not provide any info as to where the shuttle would go or what might be within walking distance so unfortunately most passengers did not have a clue which way to walk etc. A beautiful beach was only about 7 min walk from the drop point but it seems only a few people actually figured it out which was sad as it was a nice area ...most only found a boring shopping center. The Sanya port has a brand new set of high rise buildings and at night they all light up with a very nice light show. Halong Bay: A major disappointment in scheduling as the ENTIRE reason to go there is to cruise through the limestone formations and enjoy the scenery. For some very strange reason we set anchor at 5 am in pitch dark and then left at 7 pm again in pitch dark so the only part of halong bay visible was near the port. Holland was anxious to sell everyone a shore excursion with a boat ride through the bay which was fine but it would have been NICE if we could have actually also sailed in/out of the bay in DAYLIGHT. Da Nang: The port is about 15 mins from the main part of town. Holland provided a shuttle bus for $12 usd roundtrip that drops near the big markets. Again no real info as to what might be near the drop point but most were able to figure it out. Da nang is a pleasant enough city and the markets are interesting. Tons of motorbikes everywhere and traffic appears to be totally chaos . Lots of little tea/coffee shops to sit and watch the chaos . Free wifi available in lobby of most hotels. Nah Trang: Again Holland offered a shuttle for $12 roundtrip and even though they said it was a 30 minute ride I timed it at 11 minutes. Again no info on what was near shuttle drop but most were able to figure out the beach front promenade and the neighborhoods a block or two back from the beach. A very fast growing beach resort Nah Trang is a pleasant port. Saigon(Ho Chi Min City) The port for Saigon is absolutely nothing but industrial with zero within sight or walking distance. Holland was in full gear pushing overpriced tours to Saigon which is almost 3 HOURS one way. The port is run by a Vietnamese taxi mafia who quoted obscene prices for Saigon and even for the one semi nearby town of Vung Tao (11 kms $100 usd one way). All in all a HORRIBLE port and if you did not buy a Holland tour good luck. I heard more complaints on this port than any other. Shianokville Cambodia: A very interesting port call. Free shuttle by Holland to a chaotic market about 20 mins drive away. From there it was easy to hire a four person tuk tuk for about $5 usd to take you to the beautiful beach areas. Serendipity beach is a long white sand beach lined with chairs/umbrellas and nice clean looking water. It was New Years Eve and the locals were out in force with picnics etc getting ready for a major night time party. Lots and lots of open air bars/restaurants along the beach with bargain prices on drinks and food etc. For some very strange reason we sailed at 7 pm JUST as fireworks were starting up so naturally we missed the entire new year's celebration...Our next port of laem chabang was only 100 miles away (less than five hours sailing time) but rather than stay in port or even cruise off the coast to allow us to watch fireworks at shianokville the ship went out into the darkness where we sailed around in CIRCLES for the next 36 HOURS killing time . Why? Who knows as no explanation. SURELY it would have been cheaper, better to sit at anchor or at dock than to just ride around in circles?? Laem Chabang: The port for Bangkok and pattaya sits 1 ½ hours from Bangkok and about 30 minutes from the beach resort of pattaya. Once again it is an industrial port only and it is over a two mile walk out to the gates / highway...so yet again you are held captive by Holland pushing ridiculously overpriced shore excursions and an even worse taxi mafia than Saigon. Even though all Bangkok and pattaya taxis have meters and USE them naturally at this port they refuse to use the meters and had posted fares of $50 usd one way to pattaya (normally about $12 usd with taxi meter) and over $130 usd one way to Bangkok which is normally about $30. Holland's shuttle to bkk is $60 per person roundtrip....by way of comparison a very nice bus leaves Bangkok/Pattaya every 30 minutes and goes right by laem chabang all the way to pattaya/bkk for $4 usd. How sad that many people simply stayed on the ship in laem chabang rather than hassle with the transport problems. Both Bangkok and pattaya are great places to visit but between the laem chabang taxi mafia and the Holland gouge prices it is just one big hassle. Frankly Holland should either provide reasonably priced shuttle buses or skip both saigon and laem chabang for other ports that are not hours from cities and/or out in middle of nowhere and ruled by local taxi mafias. Ko Samui: Tender to the port of Na Thong (pronounced NATHAN by the Holland travel "expert" who seemed to think we had landed at Nathan road in Hong Kong or perhaps England and who knew less than nothing about Thailand. Easy tender in and tons of metered taxis and even cheaper songtaeows (pick up trucks with seats in the back that serve as local buses) ready to take you anywhere no problems. The port town itself is full of shops and restaurants etc with free wifi etc and is a very pleasant place to roam. Singapore: As expected very neat and tidy city with draconian laws against most anything like litter, chewing gum, jaywalking etc. Fantastic subway system makes getting around very easy. Bit of a hassle as every time you walk on or off ship you MUST go through passport control for some reason. Singapore is an EXPENSIVE city. Paid $12.50 usd for ONE BEER in a nothing special bar/restaurant. Six pack of Beer in a 7/11 is $30 usd. There is a duty free shop as you exit the ship where you can buy beer/wine/booze at much much lower prices. Singapore is not a good place to go pub crawling. We disembarked in Singapore at the same time as a royal Caribbean ship so there were long lines to clear immigration and then a MASSIVE long line to get a taxi to the airport with a wait of an hour or more. Best advice is either get off very early or just WAIT until about 11 am to get off when the line has gone down or just sit in one of the coffee shops and relax rather than stand in line. Taxi fare to airport is only about $15 usd and takes 30 minutes. Holland sells a one way bus ride to the airport at $39 usd. Singapore airport one of the best in the world. Free wifi throughout and plenty of shops/restaurants/comfortable sitting areas etc everywhere. Read Less
Sail Date December 2012
My wife and I plus two good friends and two family members took the Alaska Inside Passage cruise on the MS Volendam, which sailed from Vancouver July 25th 2012 -- August 1st 2012. Instead of writing a day by day account of the cruise ... Read More
My wife and I plus two good friends and two family members took the Alaska Inside Passage cruise on the MS Volendam, which sailed from Vancouver July 25th 2012 -- August 1st 2012. Instead of writing a day by day account of the cruise I'd rather list what I liked and what I didn't like about the cruise. This was our fifth cruise and we've previously cruised with, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Radisson and Canard. Please keep in mind there were 1500 passengers on board and this is my opinion and account only. Things I liked about the ship: - The Volendam seemed very steady when at sea and without much sensation of motion or movement. - The three onboard shows we saw were all good. We especially enjoyed the female comedian Chris Pendleton who was really funny. - At the end of the cruise you are allowed to stay in your cabin until you are called to disembark the ship. Please note that you will leave the ship on deck two (2) which is never announced or written. - The split-pea soup which is served around the ship and on deck while at Glacier Bay (State Park) was very good and most welcomed. We were there in late July and it was as cold as a January day in Washington DC. - I really liked that are room steward's swept our cabin floors daily and also cleaned the shower (tub) daily. They both did a super job keeping the cabin clean. - I really liked having the hand sanitizer stations, which was placed around the ship at the elevators and dining rooms. - The bathrobe in the room is a nice touch. - There is plenty of storage. There is only one electrical outlet so bring an extender if you need to plug in multiple items simultaneously. There is another one in the bathroom but it is two-prong only. - The captain will communicate when wildlife is spotted. - Embarkation and de-embarkation is the best of any cruise we have taken. Easy, organized, swift. - This is the first time without a balcony but the port hole view was fine. We did not miss a balcony. It actually got us out of our room more. Questionable things about the ship: - The ship's bell (forward) denotes the ship was commissioned in 1999 so please keep in mind this is an OLD ship. My sister in law (cabin 1900) had numerous flushing and backup issues with her toilet. The crew left a total of three written notes that the water would be turned off (for four hours each time) and repairs made (it still didn't work correctly). This was my sister in laws first cruise. So after the second issue we both when up to the front deck to complain and see what can be done. The response was "it's being looked into". The Front Desk never attempted to compensate her or make things right or contact her to see if the problem was solved. So please beware if you have a problem. - Access to the bow is hard to find and a bit strange to access. It is on the 3rd level. Look for the sign that says "bow". It looks like it is closed off and staff only but it's not. - Don't bother taking a magnet for your door to ID your door. The door is not metal so the magnet will not stick. We used gaffer tape. - The gym / spa point of contact (Lestor) was condescending and a jerk to us and other members of our traveling party (he did not know we were traveling together and the incidents were totally seperate and different). - We also had a problem (cabin 1891) with smelling sewer gas in our bath room. I know enough about plumbing and made sure all the P-traps all were filled with water and I kept the sink and tub plungers closed (problem solved). But here again this is an old ship, with plumbing issues. - No flexibility on either formal night. My 17 year old nephew came to the first formal night in dress slacks, polished dress shoes, dress shirt and tie...he looked great but was stopped at the door. Their head matre de (Mario) will not let you into the dining room without a jacket. All of the men have to wear either a suit jacket, tux or sports coat. However, you are not required to wear a tie. - The ship didn't communicate well with passengers. When in port, no announcements are made as to where you exit the ship and it's in a different location in every port. Please give yourself plenty of time in order to make an early excursion to find the location. Even the Front Desk said they did not have that information and to wait for an announcement (that never came). - Our bed linens were old (but clean) with several small rips. Holland America...it's time you buy some new bed linens. - The Ledo deck cafeteria stations are confusing and are laid out in a disorganized fashion. The most popular stations are next to each other so the middle is always crowded. - You cannot view your bill through their T.V.; you have to go to the front desk and ask for a printout. Here again...it's an old ship. - In my opinion the food isn't bad but it's not that good either. I think if Holland America were buying higher quality meats that would go a long way in improving the onboard dinners. Also their anytime dinning menu selection is not available on the last night. The last night menu theme is international foods from various countries which is the worst food night of the cruise. - On the last morning of the cruise we used room service. Half way through breakfast I noticed something at the bottom of my wife's orange juice. Under closer examination she discovered it was a huge (one inch) piece of broken glass. She took the glass up to the Ledo deck and asked to speak to someone in charge. When she explained the orange juice was from room service the manager said "it's not my station". You just have to love that kind of response from someone in charge. Oh and my wife was okay but the thought she may have swallowed glass due to carelessness really upsets me. Things I liked about Alaska: - We took the Tracy Arm Fjord (high speed catamaran) excursion which is a must do (but a long day). This excursion allows you to get up close and personal to both the north and south "Sawyer" Glacier. Note: it's a several hour boat ride back to Juneau. You'll be dropped off at the ship. We had planned to also explore the Mendenhall Glacier but just ran out of time. Shari of the excursion was excellent, informative and entertaining. - We also really enjoyed the White's Pass Train Ride & Gold Panning excursion in Skagway. We all enjoyed the Liarsville camp and the gold panning. There is no gold in this part of Alaska but each pan has dirt/gravel with a trace amount of gold. This gives you the feel of panning and finding gold (the gold is yours to keep). Hey, and remember to howl like a wolf when they board your bus. They (Liarsville camp personal) have a lot of fun and want you to have fun too. When we got back from this excursion we walked into town and hiked up the mountain to Lower Dewey Lake. Have good hiking shoes, drinking water and some athletic ability (the hike is rated as moderate) and you'll enjoy the beauty, view and the workout. - There are so many interesting things to see like: water falls, snow covered mountains, the turquoise mineral filled water at the glaciers, marine mammals, plants, rocks and trees, green lush meadows, wild life and the people are friendly and will ask you "so where are you from"? This was a bucket list trip for me and my wife. Things I didn't like about Alaska: - Nothing. It was wonderful. - Dress for cool weather. Dress in layers and you will be glad to have gloves and a stocking cap in Glacier Bay. - Don't be discouraged if it is overcast, foggy or rainy in the morning. There is a good chance it will clear up for the afternoon. We stayed at the Metropolitan pre-cruise in Vancouver which we liked a lot. After the cruise we stayed at The Sutton Place which cost more. Sutton Place had a beautiful view but no wifi or other amenities (unless you want to pay). I preferred the Metropolitan for location, amenities, price, friendliness. Read Less
Sail Date July 2012
My sister and I booked a 7 night Inside Passage Cruise on the MS Volendam. We flew into Seattle, took the AmTrak coach to Vancouver to spend the night before boarding the ship the next day. We stayed at the Ramada close to Gastown and ... Read More
My sister and I booked a 7 night Inside Passage Cruise on the MS Volendam. We flew into Seattle, took the AmTrak coach to Vancouver to spend the night before boarding the ship the next day. We stayed at the Ramada close to Gastown and enjoyed shopping there in the morning before boarding. The Ramada was close enough to Canada Place that we could have walked, so we didn't include the transfer cost, but taxis are reasonable there and we didn't want to struggle with luggage. Boarding was painless. The lines were long, but moved rapidly. There were two ships in dock and a lot of people milling around but the process was well controlled. There were ample HAL employees directing traffic and it went seamlessly. We had our photos taken, issued cabin keys, then seated in the "holding area" until the line opened for us to pass through customs. Once on board, the Lido (buffet) was open for lunch and it was recommended that we eat before going to our cabins in order that the stewards had plenty time to ready the cabins from the cruise that had disembarked that morning. As soon as we arrived in our cabins, our luggage was already there. We unpacked, gathered at our Lifeboat stations for the Emergency procedures, then went on a tour of the ship with the "Lifestylist," Claire. (Very helpful, cheerful personality.) The ship was a good size and appropriate for what we were looking for in a cruise. There were no discos, rambunctious youth, or blaring music (for the most part, although one time it did get awfully loud on the Promenade Deck). The crew maintained a very clean ship, and the captain and crew were overly cautious about curtailing the spread of viruses and sickness. (Hand sanitizer "stations" at all elevators, stairways, dining entries, etc.) The only complaint in the maintenance department is that they were continually painting. Every day areas were roped off and marked "wet paint". Also, every day, the promenade deck was washed down, which meant if you were an early walker you walked on very wet decks. Our cabin was on the Promenade Deck, which was convenient. We had a large window, while not looking directly out, looked across the open promenade deck to the outside. Being on that deck and close to an exit door from the hall to the deck made it easy for us to get out on the deck for photos, walking, etc. Even though many people walked the promenade, the windows were tinted so that our cabin was still private even when the curtains were open. We had previously read that if you have trouble with sea sickness, dizziness, etc., a cabin toward the aft (back) of the ship on a lower deck would be best, and that's just what we had. We would have walked less steps overall if our cabin had been more centrally located (especially when we left something in our cabin that we needed), but with the large meals, the walking was good for us! The cabin was a cozy size, larger than we anticipated, with ample storage space (certainly for the two of us). The beds were comfortable and the bathroom spacious enough with a full tub. A shelf under the sink as well as a cabinet built into the corner over the sink offered plenty of room to store our toiletries. The water pressure was good, but we took several cool/warm/cold showers. (We never even thought to bring this to the attention of our steward. There may have been something he could have done to correct this!) We had some minor problems with the toilet flushing, but access to public restrooms on the ship caused that not to be much of a hardship. One thing we had not prepared for was the absence of a clock. We would not leave our phones turned on (to make sure we did not receive any $16/minute international calls), and as neither of us wear watches, we were constantly wondering about the time. This was important in order to make it to planned events taking place on the ship. Every night we were given a schedule of the next day's events. (Finally we bought an inexpensive watch at one of the ship stores but it did not keep good time and really wasn't worth what we paid for it.) I believe the television might have displayed the time, but we would not turn it on for that. The classes from Microsoft on digital photography were very good for beginners. The young guy, Craig, who taught them was patient and willing to help with any problem cruisers were having with their digital cameras, computers, etc. Some really got their "money's worth" out of his help! Not being interested in the bars, casino or many of the shows, we retired to our cabins fairly early each evening. It was quiet and peaceful (maybe more so for us because we were toward the back of the ship?). Since the sunset was late (around 9:30 or 10:00) we saw a couple of beautiful sunsets. (When it wasn't raining or cloudy!) Our steward was very efficient and thorough. He attended our rooms twice a day, smiling every time we saw him and always helpful. We had first dining at 5:45 and the dining staff was efficient and for the most part friendly. Our assigned table was toward the center of the restaurant, with little access to views of the outside, so we decided we really enjoyed the buffet better -- our choice of seating, seeing and choosing the dishes that looked good to us at the time, and not being on a schedule. We wound up, for the most part eating breakfast, lunch and dinner in the Lido. We also decided that, although prepared, we did not feel like dressing for the formal dinners, so the Lido was a better fit for us. The bars and lounge areas, library and card room with window access were comfortable places to sit during the day to scan the water and banks for wildlife, to catch a snooze, to eat that extra dessert, to read or to chat with new acquaintances as the ship made its way through the Inside Passage. For the most part, it was too windy and cold to sit outside on the deck areas. One of my recommendations to the ship line in this area would be to make access to outer areas easier. From the seated areas, if you noted something you really wanted to photograph, you had the options of 1) taking it through the spotted, dirty window (most of the time covered with raindrops!) or 2) running to an outside area hoping to catch the shot before it disappeared. (I missed most of these!) There were some covered seating areas on the back pool Lido deck with easy acess, but it got awfully cold and windy there as well as on the Promenade Deck. I tried it a few times, but usually gave up and headed inside. We were glad for the captain's schedule when we made our first stop -- Juneau at about 1:00 pm. I was afraid that late arrival wouldn't give us enough time to check out the capital city, but it was ample time. There was only one other ship in dock which made it much easier to get around town, to our excursions, etc. without being jostled by crowds. Skagway was the next port of call.This was my favorite stop (or would have been, if not for the rain!). Thankfully, up in the mountain the rain stopped. Glacier Bay was astounding. Again, misting rain and cloud cover, but we were able to see several glaciers. It was another rainy, cold day and the Crow's Nest was a good place from which to view since the windows stretch all the way across the front of the ship. (However, you must arrive EARLY to get a seat in there.) Having the National Park ranger and personnel come on board and give comments and explanations gave it an added dimension. We didn't witness any large "calving" which we would have liked to seen, but there was a calming quietness that was almost "otherworldly." It's hard to imagine the natives of yesteryear existing day in and day out in that cold, sublime area. The last port of call was Ketchikan. Enjoyed it but didn't take any tours. Just wanted to walk around, get souvenirs and get a feel for the city. Walked through the Creek Street area and along the Married Man's Trail. The last day was another day of cruising the Inside Passage, making our way back to Vancouver. It was still very pleasant viewing and the captain did a fairly good job of keeping us updated on where we were and what was coming up that we might be able to see. Although I enjoyed the viewing, I was beginning to want to be off the ship and on dry ground. Six nights of being rocked to sleep was beginning to get to me! I think others must begin to feel the same way because they scheduled more "active" events that last day than usual -- table tennis tournament, basketball game, WII bowling, etc. The disembarkment was carefully planned, but no matter how well organized, 1,400 people disembarking and some not following directions caused some chaos. However, overall it went well. Once off the ship, we were somewhat confused where we supposed to go, but once through customs, there were HAL employees directing us and answering questions. Found them to be very helpful. Overall I recommend Holland American Lines and the Volendam. There wasn't pressure to buy anything on the ship, although we felt a little pressure from the professional photographers to allow us to be photographed. (They made a DVD of the week which was available for sale at the end of the cruise as well as individual photos taken during the week. That would make a nice souvenir for those interested in pictures of who was on board as well as what could have been seen during the sailing.) The other thing noted about the cruise was lack of North Americans working on board. As far as I could tell (by accents), there may have only been a couple. Although the workers spoke English to some degree, a few were hard to understand and had trouble understanding us. Read Less
Sail Date June 2012
Overall I enjoyed my cruise to Alaska with Holland America & would recommend it, as long as you can handle a couple of "glitches". My highlights: - Food: I thought the food, and selection, was very good. - Staff: the ... Read More
Overall I enjoyed my cruise to Alaska with Holland America & would recommend it, as long as you can handle a couple of "glitches". My highlights: - Food: I thought the food, and selection, was very good. - Staff: the cruise director was charming & the support staff were gracious. - Sights: the scenic cruising in BC is really lovely, and Glacier Bay was amazing. - Activities: there was always something to do, although sometimes we chose to read or relax in the lounges. I loved the library. - Entertainment: the nightly entertainment was decent quality. They have some good singers on board for sure! - Ports: I enjoyed all the ports, especially Skagway. It was nice that the ship was always docked very close to the city & you didn't need to buy an excursion package to enjoy them. Lowlights & glitches: - Vodka I ordered via phone before the cruise never arrived & the front desk staff couldn't find record of it. However, I was charged for it! I'm still trying to get this sorted:( - Our room card had to be continuously replaced & we were NOT demagnetizing it; we missed a bus in Juneau when we were once again getting a replacement card. - Front desk staff: some - especially one of the gentleman - was very unhelpful & not good at finding solutions to problems. - We never went to Tracy Arm, & no mention/explanation was given. This was clearly listed on the itinerary, including the cruise confirmation I downloaded from the Hal website. Suggestion: - If you order an item pre-cruise over the phone, get a confirmation #. If you deal with the front office, note down the name of who you talk to. Ask them to put a note on your account where appropriate. - Get on the ship as early as possible, we didn't leave Vancouver until 5pm but as 12 noon you could go on board and have lunch, followed by ship orientations etc...it's a great time to get familiar with the ship. - If you like to party past 11pm, invite other people to meet you at the Crow's Nest ("disco" on the top desk)...it was a ghost town most nights! - Bring waterproof shoes, jacket, & maybe gloves. I wish I'd had a jacket with an attached hood that protected my ears/neck when we were in Glacier Bay! Ports: We were on a budget so we only did one excursion. There was plenty to do if you are a "do it yourselfer" like us. JUNEAU: We paid $14 (return) for a bus to the Mendenhall Glacier. You can buy these tickets from the booths in front of the ship. We walked around a bit & went to the glacier visitors centre. Then we returned to town & walked around. There is free hotspot Internet access at the library. SKAGWAY: Skagway was my favourite port. We booked an excursion, the White Pass Railroad($130 each) and enjoyed it. We walked around town & bit out of town to the cemetery...I heard a rumour that a bit up from the cemetery is a lookout point. We visited the museum which was interesting. A fun place to wander. KETCHICKAN: It was so wet here, a store clerk told us they had one day of sunshine last year! We caught a free bus in front of the ship that took us to one of the totem pole places. We caught the same bus back to town & wandered around. There is 1 free hour of hotspot internet access at the library & the museum is in the same building. Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
We booked adjacent unobstructed, outside cabins -- one for my husband and myself and the other for my son, daughter-in-law and 9 month old grandbaby. The boarding process was very easy and efficient with no waiting. We arrived near the ... Read More
We booked adjacent unobstructed, outside cabins -- one for my husband and myself and the other for my son, daughter-in-law and 9 month old grandbaby. The boarding process was very easy and efficient with no waiting. We arrived near the beginning of the boarding time and had immediate access to our cabins. We had filled out the forms on our special needs prior to departure. The gallon of distilled water for our CPAP machines was in our stateroom, but the "pak and play" baby bed was not in our son, daughter-in-law and grandbaby's room. The error was quickly fixed. Our cabin was very comfortable with a large amount of storage space. The bathroom was very nice, with a tub. There was plenty of room to shower and no problems with water escaping from the shower. We always had lots of hot water. The staff in both the formal dining room and in the Lido were very friendly and worked hard to accommodate the baby and keep her entertained. Our grand daughter loved some of the soups and one night we ordered a second bowl just for her. The main courses at dinner were excellent. The desserts were not as good as the main courses. The only problems we had on board were: 1) That our room was too cold even when the heat was left on the hottest setting. A person was quickly sent to our room when we complained. 2) The toilet clogged up one evening. A plumber was sent to correct the dire situation within 40 minutes. 3) The same evening was the blocked toilet, we received a phone call at 10:30 PM after we had gone to sleep asking us if we would switch cabins the next day (during the sailing in Glacier Bay to allow the wall paper to be changed). My husband thought that the request was a joke, but they were serious. When I explained out out-of-line and inappropriate the request was both in terms of time of night and that we did not wanted to stay next door to our grandbaby, they made amends by giving us a free dinner and nice bottle of wine at the extra charge restaurant. The gym was very nice and I used it every morning except the last one. The evening show was mediocre with dull material. The choreography was poor and one of the two female dancers was rather hefty. When a couple got up to walk out on the juggler, he ridculed them even when they tried to sneak out further to the back. I had been yawning and thought he might criticize me for that! Read Less
Sail Date May 2012
Disability Matters: We booked the cruise well in advance. Mum requires a walking frame to get around and a wheel chair for steep inclines and long distances. Because mum couldn't climb into a bath to shower, we opted for a disabled ... Read More
Disability Matters: We booked the cruise well in advance. Mum requires a walking frame to get around and a wheel chair for steep inclines and long distances. Because mum couldn't climb into a bath to shower, we opted for a disabled room. That was a good move on our part. Embarkation: We caught a cab from our hotel to the dock. The staff were wonderful and directed us to where we needed to go. We had booked a wheel chair assist to embark, knowing that a steep incline up a gang plank would be too much for mum. The gentleman handling that area was very helpful and directed us to a desk where we wouldn't have to cue to check in. So far so good. They noted that mum is a diabetic and asked if we need a sharps container in our cabin. We said yes. That did now arrive, not until 3 days into the cruise when we received a questionnaire asking if there was anything more they could do for us. We asked for the sharps container. It arrived. Apparently we had only to ask our cabin steward and he would have given us one. The day following our departure we received a letter noting that we had a passenger with mobility problems in our cabin and to please contact the front desk. So I did. They informed me that the ships wheelchairs would not be available for use during the cruise. This was a new policy and not in place when we booked. We had specifically made a point of asking if wheel chairs would be available to disembarking and embarking at ports of call when we booked and were told yes they would. When we completed the paper work requesting wheelchair assistance for embarkation etc we were not notified of the changes. I was told that they would assist my mother to disembark and embark but were evasive as to whether or not they would make a wheelchair available. The tour desk also contacted us to question the suitability of one of the tours we had booked. When we booked the tour through the ship I took careful note regarding suitability of the tours for those with limited mobility. There was nothing that indicated that the tour we had booked for the Bay of Islands would not be suitable for her. I held off cancelling the tour until after we had visited our 1st tender port so I could personally check out the tender transfer process. At our second tender transfer port, my mother managed just fine so we decided not to cancel our Bay of Island tour. As fate would have it, our visit to The Bay of Islands was cancelled due to bad weather! When we arrived in Dunedin the gangway was extremely steep. There was no way my mother could attempt to walk down it safely with her walking frame. The crew suggested that she sit on her frame and they would take her down on her frame! We said no, that she required a wheelchair as it was not safe to push her down on her frame. They got a wheel chair. The staff have no idea how to handle a wheel chair on a gangplank either up or down. It was a white knuckle experience for her at every port of call. How the crew haven't sustained back injuries I don't know. There was only once when one of the officers was present and corrected the way that they were going to embark did my mother ... or I for that matter feel safe. At every port the gangway was very steep. The cabin was spacious and the bathroom well set up. The only thing I noted was that for a disabled bathroom the toilet was a standard one, not the taller variety disabled bathrooms usually have. I wrote to the cruise line after our return to raise a couple of concerns, this being one of them and in the response I received was told that there was a raised toilet seat available for use, had we requested it. We didn't know that there was one available. Having said this, there were ample railings around the bathroom and there was a shower stool. The shower was easy to use, it was well set out. TOURS: In Tauranga (Rotorua) we booked a private tour through Xquizit Limousine and Tours. That proved to be a good move. They were there waiting for us when we docked. Our driver was wonderful and very attentive and very informative. He pre booked a wheel chair for when we got to the thermal areas and then proceeded to push mum around and to give us a personalised narrated tour of the area. The staff knew he well, so when we went to view where the men were learning to do the Moari carvings, they pulled the barriers back so mum could get up close and personal and they talked to mum and I one on one. The same in the women's weaving area. They also gave mum a gift because it was her birthday! We were taken to a lovely cafe for lunch. While eating lunch the staff came over with a small cup cake with a candle on it and sang happy birthday! Our driver had told them it was mums birthday. We had a fantastic day. The cost of the tour was half of what the ships tour cost and it was well worth every cent and was an incredibly memorable day for mum. We too one of the shops tours in Napier. That was good and informative. Would I do it again? Probably not, But mum wanted to do the tour. We enjoyed each of our ports of call, mum just wanted to wander around the local areas for awhile to soak up the ambiance of the areas. The Ship: The ship was lovely. Lots of areas to sit and relax, lots of activities to participate in. the Internet was incredibly expensive, but do you really need to spend hours on the net when you are on holidays? The evening shows were great, the guest entertainers were excellent. We went to the early shows, and then made our way to the piano bar and enjoyed a very entertaining evening listening to the pianist there (Glen). His interaction with the passengers, his showmanship and the variety of music he played made every night a night to enjoy. The piano bar was packed every night. Each night there was a theme. Well worth going to. The food on board was great. The Lido deck was great, the selection was amazing and the quality good. The only negative would be, there was nowhere for mum to park her walking frame. The crew didn't think to remove a chair from a table to make room for her frame, so finding a suitable spot for us to eat was difficult. We had early fixed dinner seating on a table of 6. The meals were great. The portion sizes for mum were often too big, and even when we requested a small serve, the serve came out the same size as everyone else's, and so that often put mum off eating, huge serves are overwhelming for her. That would have to be the only negative. We didn't take advantage of breakfast in the main dining room until the end of the cruise. I wish we had done so earlier, it was much easier for mum eating there than on the Lido deck. Disembarkation: This was the biggest negative for us. We booked to go to the airport via a ship transfer, to ensure we got off in plenty of time to catch our flight. Because mum was a wheel chair assist to get off the ship, we had to meet in the Oceana bar. Our disembarkation time was 7.45am, so we arrived there at 7.35am to find the place in darkness with no wheelchairs in sight. We waited and waited and eventually at 7.50 I went and found a crew member to ask what was happening. A crew member eventually arrived at 7.55 with no wheel chairs. He didn't think disembarkation had commenced ... I don't know where he had been as it had been announced that it had commenced at 7.30 on two occasions. He then set about finding wheelchairs and then a tiny slip of a girl arrived to take mum off the ship. She took us to the wrong deck to disembark, even though we tried to correct her. She eventually found a crew member who could tell her which deck to disembark on. When we got to the gangway, once again it was super steep. She nearly tipped mum out of the wheel chair getting her up the lip of the gangway. A shore person came up to rescue mum and take over with the chair. The ship were using the Pinnacle Grill staff to handle the disembarkation of those needing assistance. We finally got to the bus, 30 minutes late. There was one other person who required wheelchair assistance who arrived another 5 minutes later. For those who did not require assistance or who left the ship later disembarkation would have been far less stressful. For us it was very frustrating dealing with the very casual attitude of those assisting with this process. It felt like the staff from the Pinnacle Grill were very reluctant to take on board this role. Overall: Mum had a great cruise. Family members took advantage of pre booking gifts for mum (flowers, manicure, etc) for mum which she received at different times throughout the cruise. She was surprised and thrilled. The dining room sang to her on her birthday, and gave her a small birthday cake. The crew were friendly, on the whole and attentive. Would I cruise again with HAL? Yes, it was a relaxing experience, the ship was not too big and the ratio of staff to passengers was good. If travelling with someone with disabilities, endeavour to get a full update of facilities available on board, don't just assume that all will be ok!   Read Less
Sail Date December 2011
Travelled from Sydney to Auckland with many ports whilst en route. Volendam is showing her age - looking worn around the edges and needing a face-lift - but this did not detract from our enjoyment of this fab cruise. Particular ... Read More
Travelled from Sydney to Auckland with many ports whilst en route. Volendam is showing her age - looking worn around the edges and needing a face-lift - but this did not detract from our enjoyment of this fab cruise. Particular highlights include: mayor of Burnie greeting us when disembarking; wonderful botanic gardens at Dunedin (easily walkable on a day ashore); beautiful weather on the day we 'tendered' into akaroa; genuine warmth of reception by the people of Napier; wonderful scenery in Mount Manganui. Life onboard was generally fun with a variety of entertainment. Our favorites were great quizzes organised by cruise director David and DJ Phil. Questions did tend to be rather geared to US residents, but hey, we can cope. Didn't win though! The evening meals were much better than I remember having on Ms. Veendam earlier this year but breakfast and lunch were still a bit of a scrum in the Lido self-service restaurant. Much better to go to the Rotterdam for a sit-down affair if time available. Our cabin was clean, had a wide range of storage, and was generally quiet but had odd ominous banging sounds from below on occasions (engine room? tenders?). We made full use of the self service laundrette, having been away for a week by the time we got on board ship. It really does seem odd that you still need an enormous number of US quarters to operate the washers and dryers, it's probably time that they sold tokens which would be much more user friendly. Opted for open dining which means we could go any time we wanted rather than be tied to a specific sitting. Generally shared with other people in tables of 6-8 and this worked very well most of the time and forced us to socialise with others, which was enjoyable and entertaining. Evening shows were not to our taste for the most part, but we recognised that all had talent. Usually quite difficult to find space to sit if one went after dinner. All in all, we had a fab time and would thoroughly recommend this itinerary. Read Less
Sail Date November 2011
Rather than a detailed account of our trip I will highlight some of my impressions and offer some tips and hints. I have also included some information that I had a difficult time researching before our trip. This was our third Holland ... Read More
Rather than a detailed account of our trip I will highlight some of my impressions and offer some tips and hints. I have also included some information that I had a difficult time researching before our trip. This was our third Holland America cruise and second aboard the Volendam. (Note, we boarded the ship in Skagway but this form does not have that port in the drop down list). In general, the land tour and cruise exceeded my expectations. The land tour was super organized and the handling of baggage and other details was extraordinary. Room keys were always provided as soon as we departed the bus and our Tour Directory, Gwen, did an outstanding job of taking care of all of our travel needs. We also had a great bus driver, Rick, from Fairbanks to Whitehorse. The bus (coach) itself was full but was configured for just 44 passengers. This meant we had extra leg room. The coach had a reasonably sized bathroom and we were not discouraged to use it (other bus drivers on tours usually tell us to only use the bathroom in emergencies). There were also frequent rest stops, usually every two hours or less. The coach had video screens, music via provided headphones, just like a plane. HAL had two buses on the same route but they tried to stagger our times so that the restrooms and other facilities would not be overloaded. We also had several buses from other tour companies that seemed to be duplicating our itinerary. The trains to Denali and Fairbanks were also comfortable and there are good views on either side of the train. I highly recommend this Cruise Tour itinerary. It provided a diverse schedule of included activities. All of the hotels were centrally located and they were clean and well maintained. I read some negative reviews of the Westmark in Beaver Creek but our room was fine. We didn't get the meal plan but were satisfied with the number of meals that were included. We used the $25 per person coupon at the Westmark Whitehorse for breakfast and dinner. We are light eaters and the restaurant gladly split our dinner, even putting it on two plates for us. Unfortunately the Salmon was dry and other diners reported similar disappointment in their entrees. The days start very early and we usually did not attempt to eat breakfast on most days. We brought snacks and instant oatmeal which were sufficient to eat in the room. There were usually stops in mid morning and mid afternoon for additional refreshments. We did not book any of the land tour excursions but opted to try to do some things on our own. We asked the bus driver on the included Denali tour if he could leave us at the Visitors Center before returning to the hotel and he happily agreed. We took the time to see the movie, view the exhibits, etc and then went on the free shuttle bus to the dog kennels. They had a good presentation and ran the sled dogs on a dirt path. On the second day in Denali we took the free shuttle from the hotel to the Visitors Center. The shuttle runs every half hour and is convenient. We then joined the 10:00 am free Ranger led hike. There were 20 of us on this hike and the Ranger said he would call another Ranger if more people showed up. This hike lasted about 2 hours and was fun and informative. Similar hikes are offered by HAL but cost almost $100 per person. At the end of the hike we saw a Beaver dam and were told that between 4pm and 6 pm is the best time to actually see the beavers at work. The Beavers are up to 100 lbs and they pull their downed trees right along the hiking path down to the dam. We were sorry to have missed that. We walked back to the Science Center and then had lunch at the Visitors center. We did not have to go back to the hotel and just walked down the path to the train which departed at 4 that afternoon. The Fairbanks visit included excursions (sternwheeler, and gold mine) were both done well. On the sternwheeler, there are free doughnuts, and later in the day free salmon dip with crackers. I thought they would charge for the coffee but this was free also. The best seats on the boat are on the left side. The gold panning was fun but they sort of lock you in the gift shop after since you have to take the train back to the busses even though it is a five minute trip. However they have free cookies and coffee in the shop so can't complain too much. The Yukon portion of our trip was far more scenic than I envisioned. There are two long bus rides but they are broken up with frequent stops and some fun activities on board. Again, our bus driver, Rick, and our tour director, Gwen, did a admirable job in entertaining us. The dog sled presentation and demonstration just outside Whitehorse was disappointing. The talk was good but we couldn't believe they used a motorized ATV instead of letting the dogs pull a real sled as we saw in Denali and in Fairbanks. In Whitehorse we took the free day to hike the river trail. It is essentially one loop and takes you to the fish ladders and back. A pleasant way to spend the day. There is also a trolley that costs $2 one way and $4 for the whole day. The White Pass railway was a great way to end our land tour. The best seats are on the right side of the train. Embarkation in Skagway went smoothly and we were on board before 1 pm, in plenty of time for lunch on the Lido Deck. The main dining room was closed that day so it was not possible for Mariners who embarked in Skagway to have lunch there. The Volendam recently completed a refurbishment and the ship was in excellent condition. However one big exception was the mold on our shower curtain. I am sure our room steward would have changed it if I asked. We had a "guaranteed" port hole room and were upgraded to a room with a large window and it was midships on the lower promenade deck, a great location. I was a bit odd having people walking past the window but we checked and it is almost impossible to see into the room during daylight hours. We usually like to eat at the Lido but found that the buffet was a "free for all". Some of the food was on the line too long and the "display" dishes looked better than what was served. Desserts were not replenished often enough and the line for the ice cream was always long. The toppings were inexplicably placed before the ice cream which led to even longer waits on line. The dinner buffet does not offer any more service than lunch. You still have to pick up your own drinks, entrees, etc. In general, the food tasted much better in the dining room. We ate dinner in the Lido the first night while still in port and one side was open for staff only. The staff side had a nice view of the bay and the guest side had a view of the pier and the graffiti covered rocks. The Lido has almost the same menu as the main dining room but on formal night they did not have the lobster. The main dining room had Surf and Turf that night and we opted for Surf and Surf and the waiter did not hesitate in bringing us two lobster tails each. They were large and perfectly cooked. Probably the best lobster we have received on any ship. I packed light and just wore a dark shirt and tie. I saw several others dressed similarly and no one seemed to mind. We ate all of the other dinners in the main dining room as well. We had open sitting and whenever I called for a reservation for a table for two I was only given the options of 5:30 pm and 7:45. this worked for us. Without a reservation, a table for two meant a 20 to 25 minute wait (they give you a beeper). It seemed like many of my previous suggestions had been incorporated. I guess they really do read those comment cards. There were few announcements, particularly in the stateroom so there were no repetitive reminders about bingo, etc. There were more activities than I remember on previous voyages. The entertainment was excellent and the shows were better than any I remember. The singers/dancers were good as was the comedian (Lee Bayless). Debarkation went smoothly and a nice improvement is that you can wait in your stateroom until your departure time. We had breakfast in the dining room on the last day and the waiters did not rush us at all. We walked the short distance to the train station. The train leaves frequently and it takes about 30 minutes to the airport. Just make sure you are on the Canadian Line. You can pay via credit card. We used our credit card frequently in the Yukon and did not need to change to Canadian currency. Leave extra time for the airport because you must go through U.S. customs and there was a long line. This turned out to be longer than I expected. I would be glad to provide any other information so feel free to ask. Read Less
Sail Date August 2011
Having seen someone else's pictures taken from the deck of an Alaskan cruise ship I decided I had to go there for myself and so the booking for the Volendam Inside Passage route was made. Departing from Vancouver was ... Read More
Having seen someone else's pictures taken from the deck of an Alaskan cruise ship I decided I had to go there for myself and so the booking for the Volendam Inside Passage route was made. Departing from Vancouver was straightforward, I made my own way to the departure point at Canada Place and entered the check in queue. A nice Holland America staff member pointed out where the cases could be dropped off. I had preprinted the check-in docs and tags as per the instructions received via email. The queue for US immigration was long, especially for the majority of passengers who did not hold US passports. Once this was over we then went through the Holland America check-in, had our pictures taken and that was it we were ready to board the ship. We had a lovely sunny afternoon sipping cocktails on the deck while our fellow passengers boarded. When we checked our room it was setup as a double not a twin, this was easily rectified by our room attendant once he had finished delivering the luggage to each room. The Lido deck was very busy with entertainment and food laid on and the atmosphere was very pleasant as we set sail. Each evening we ate in the Rotterdam Dining room, based on open seating, and shared a table with other guests who were happy to use dinner as an opportunity to meet people. The food was good with sensible portion sizes allowing you to enjoy a 4 course meal if that was what you wanted. Wine by the glass was reasonable in comparison with restaurant prices in the UK, although bottles did tend to look expensive. We never felt under pressure to buy wine and water was provided free of charge from an iced jug without prompting. We generally had breakfast and lunch from the Lido buffet which was pretty reasonable for lunch and okay for breakfast. The breakfast omelettes were good, other cooked items were not quite so good. Lots of fruit juice was available for breakfast and glasses of water and iced tea were available at other meals alongside the tea and coffee. The Crow's Nest bar does nice coffees (liqueur) and has a great view since it is on deck 9 and above the bow. We didn't find the bar staff here as jovial as those in the Lido, Seaview and Casino bars where they were always ready to have a bit of banter with guests. The salon and sports facilities are nice and the staff were helpful and friendly. There is clear schedule of events for each day provided each evening and these range from talks on shopping (why go to such a beautiful part of the world and shop?), the places the cruise visits and tours (a sales pitch for their tours), cooking, towel art, digital photography skills, wine and beer tasting (charges apply), exercise, films, etc. Our tour included stops in Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan. I liked Skagway and Ketchikan but really disliked Juneau which was our first stop. The highlight of our Inside Passage cruise was the day spent in Glacier Bay there we saw the magnificent glaciers, orcas, humpback whales, sealions, sea otters, dolphins, porpoises and the most sensational scenery. We were fortunate and had good visibility for most of the day so the camera was busy. Layers were needed if you were on deck but it was worth it to see the views without the impedence of glass. The ship completed 360 degree turns to ensure everyone had a chance to see the glaciers which really are amazing close up. Our Outside Stateroom was comfortable with excellent service from the attendants who provided a different towel sculpture for our amusement each night. The bathroom was clean and towels were never in short supply. DVDs could be ordered to watch in your stateroom and there is no charge as long as you return them. There are around 1,000 titles so something for everyone. Read Less
Sail Date August 2011
Coming at the end of a 4 week holiday covering the Canadian Rockies and west coast cities travelling by car, plane and train we were looking forward to some total relaxation time. And that's just what we got on the Volendam. The cabin ... Read More
Coming at the end of a 4 week holiday covering the Canadian Rockies and west coast cities travelling by car, plane and train we were looking forward to some total relaxation time. And that's just what we got on the Volendam. The cabin staff were extremely helpful and polite. Our cabins were cleaned almost immediately we left for breakfast every morning. All crew we encountered acknowledged us and took interest in where we had travelled from. The Entertainment was first class but the timing of the first shows conflicting with dining times which made the second shows very busy.Food was excellent in the formal dining room - our last night aboard was our actual anniversary and we dined in the pinnacle grill - a further charge for this but what a meal - superb - one of the very best meals we have had - with very attentive service. We chose not to use the Lido restaurant much as it was a 'free for all' with some guests choosing to sit at tables well after their meal was finished causing others to eat standing up! - Not good. Additionally after a couple of days it was a self serve area with folks stretching over food, touching breads/pastries etc then putting them back - yuck! Lastly some people using this used it as a 'trough' - the amount of food piled onto plates only to be discarded was disgraceful - greed ruled the majority of these folks.The shop staff were nice with exception of one female assistant who really could not be bothered serving me. The photography staff were very good - we had some lovely pictures of us both taken. However the JC Black photographer was excellent and worth a visit to - her photographs were truly beautiful and a great way to commemorate our anniversary.Finally - port calls were very good - Alaska is gorgeous - visit to glacier bay was fantastic - witnessed calving, brown bears, whales, sea otters , eagles. The time cruising glacier bay was amazing - a truly unspoilt and glorious place. Read Less
Sail Date June 2011
Embarkation at Sydney was easy (better than a lot of ports). Missed the courtesy of being shown to our cabin (as said in another review, easy for us old timers but not so easy for first timers) There were plenty of activities for those ... Read More
Embarkation at Sydney was easy (better than a lot of ports). Missed the courtesy of being shown to our cabin (as said in another review, easy for us old timers but not so easy for first timers) There were plenty of activities for those wishing to take part. The service was first class.The organisation of port excursion's was abysmal - never any ship's staff on hand to direct people to tour buses or courtesy buses and wrong information being given. Komodo Island was a complete fiasco, we were told that we could do all or part of the trek by just asking the guides, but there was nowhere that we could have stopped so had to go on in the oppressive heat on a very roundabout route.One couple we met never got to go on the island at all as their tour kept being put off until it was too late to go. Definitely one to miss unless you are desperate to see the dragons.The dining was O.K. in the main except that many people objected to guests coming into the Lido with robes or swimming costumes on, feel there should be a ruling on this. Also the meat in the Rotterdam dining room was always underdone, even if you requested it to be VERY well done.The times of the entertainment were bad, people on the 2nd sitting were getting ready for dinner at 7p.m. so we only made two shows which were not the best we have seen by any means.A lot of people objected to the $11 per person per day that was to tip all the crew, then we were informed by one of the office staff that this was ONLY A SUGGESTION by Holland America obviously people didn't think much of the suggestion, guests like to tip the people that they feel have served them well.We found out that the 15% service charge on all drinks is to pay the Beverage staff, this is disgusting, surely the shipping company should be paying thebeverage staffs wages, not the passengers who have already paid for their cruise?We thought it was a lovely idea of Holland America to invite relatives of the crew on board at the Indonesian ports and to lay on marquees with food and drink and entertainment on the dock, the crew were delighted and loved introducing their families to the passengers.RatingsEmbarkation - GoodActivities - GoodService - GoodPort and Shore Excursions - Very poor and too expensiveStateroom - AdequateDining - Not brilliantEntertainment - Could be a lot betterDisembarkation - FairSorry Holland America but we will not be sailing with you again. Read Less
Sail Date March 2011
We used Cruise Critic reviews before our sail date to chose excursions and make the most of our trip. The information from the reviews was most helpful. We started our trip in Syndey with a few extra days booked through HAL. We had ... Read More
We used Cruise Critic reviews before our sail date to chose excursions and make the most of our trip. The information from the reviews was most helpful. We started our trip in Syndey with a few extra days booked through HAL. We had a false sense of extra time due to the slow transfer time from the airport to the hotel on the first day. And then the actual embarkation day was taken up completely with HAL procedures at the hotel , the bus ride and the embarkation cattle call. Once on the ship we were delighted with our port side stateroom which was perfect for enjoying New Zealand from our veranda. The ship was a bit worn but was going to be refurbished a short time after our cruise. The crew and staff were extremely friendly and pleasant. The food was remarkable for the number of passengers & meals served. We booked three excursions through HAL and a few on our own, also leaving a few ports for walking around on our own. Again, the Cruise Critic reviews helped immensely with these choices. The HAL excursions in Napier ( the Sheep Farm and Tuki Tuki Valley ) and the Auckland (Antarctic Encounter & Sky Tower) were worth the time and money. The Melbourne trip to the Blue Dandeongs was not. In Burnie, Tasmania we booked on-line with "Play-a-round-in-Tassie" with Robyn McCarthy and had a fabulous day customized for us and at a very reasonable cost. In Dunedin we booked the Taleri Gorge Railway trip ourselves on-line at a fraction of the cost of the HAL excursion.In Picton we booked on-line with Waterways Boating Safaris, a great excursion with great people. In Christchurch we just walked this beautiful city. We were there 24 hrs. before the Earthquake that devastated this special place. We also just walked Wellington and Tauranga, they both are fantastic. One thing that was never mentioned in any review before our trip is that most of the ports on this cruise are working ports. Therefor they require passengers to take a shuttle out of the port and usually into the near city. Most of the shuttles have a fee and some are costly. In addition, the last shuttle back to the cruise ship is usually 2 hrs before sail time, so on any given day you lose more than an hour of time visiting the port. This was one of our biggest disappointments. Read Less
Sail Date February 2011
This was a 14 day cruise from Sydney, Australia to Auckland, New Zealand. As we live in Auckland this cruise was ideal for a relaxing holiday with no long air flights. We flew to Sydney three days beforehand for a little sightseeing and ... Read More
This was a 14 day cruise from Sydney, Australia to Auckland, New Zealand. As we live in Auckland this cruise was ideal for a relaxing holiday with no long air flights. We flew to Sydney three days beforehand for a little sightseeing and shopping first. The embarkation process was both good and bad. Firstly no one seemed to know exactly where Wharf 5 in Darling Harbour was. I had looked it up and thought I knew - and it turned out I was right. However the hotel said they had been given a different location when they'd rung Holland America that morning for other guests. The taxi driver had poor English and ended up taking us via a very long (and complicated route) but we finally got there at 12.30pm. We were surprised that there were no porters to take our bags so we had to take them along in one direction to drop them off and then walk all the way back to join the queues to embark. However once on the ship, we were delighted to be told we could go to our cabin immediately. This is a new policy on Holland America and started on the Volendam and was much appreciated. We were also very pleased when our bags arrived 10 minutes after we reached our cabin - wonderful service. It was also great not to have to wear our life jackets for the safety drill so we could go straight up on deck afterwards.The ship was lovely with very attractive dEcor with the exception of that odd, coloured column in the atrium. The furnishings were getting a little shabby in places but no doubt are to be upgraded in the upcoming refurbishment. We had an inside cabin on the Lower Promenade which was good value. It only took me a couple of days to get over wanting to pull the curtains back and after that we never noticed that we didn't have a window. We liked being able to walk out to either side of the lovely teak decks. We love the comfortable steamer chairs out there - great place to read a book and watch the sea go by. The cabin had plenty of room with lots of storage space and we found the bathroom with just a shower was preferable to getting in and out of a small tub to have a shower. It was kept clean by our stewards but we would have liked the sheets to be changed a little more often especially as the top one was badly wrinkled. The bed was very comfortable and supportive. The TV is placed very high up so the only comfortable place to watch from is the bed. We loved the free DVD loan service but it was lucky I'd read about it on Cruise Critic as there wasn't a booklet in our cabin. But one was delivered as soon as we asked for it and delivery and pick up were always within a few minutes of the phone request. The choice from over 1000 movies was great.We've cruised on the Volendam's sister ship, the Zaandam so the ship layout was familiar and works well. We spent most of our free time up in the Crows Nest, great for scenic viewing and also had cocktails there during happy hour. We also enjoyed Team Trivia up there most days and met some lovely, friendly people. Cruise Director, Drew, ran things well with a pleasant, easy manner. We went to several shows and enjoyed them all especially the magician and the pianist. The new Explorations Cafe with library with a good choice of books and internet is a great place to relax. We didn't use the internet but found places ashore to check email at reasonable prices. There were plenty of activities provided on sea days and the problem was trying to fit them all in. We chose anytime dining as the fixed times were too early or too late for our taste. Also we enjoy meeting and chatting with different people at dinner. We did a have a table to ourselves a few times but were happy to share. Our first experience of anytime dining wasn't positive. We arrived just after 7.30pm and were offered a table for two upstairs and were given a slip with the table number. We went on up to the next level to find people queuing for the 8.15pm sitting. We went to the desk but were then told that we'd also have to wait half an hour for our table to be ready. We pointed out that this wasn't our idea of anytime dining and were finally given a table at 8pm. Lesson learnt - not to accept a table upstairs again. After that we always said we were happy to share and only to wait for a table on a couple of nights. We found that choosing our dining time was better if we wanted to go to the show after dinner. On the last night, when we had to go at a fixed time for the Master Chefs dinner (not something we enjoyed much) we had to leave early in order to get a seat at the show and many people turned up late. The food in the dining room was good but the appetizers were nearly always tiny. Soups were very good as were most of the main dishes but Holland America still doesn't do desserts very well. Many were very bland and again the servings were often very small. There were exceptions such as the hot Grand Marnier soufflE which was excellent. We were all surprised to be advised after boarding that the four formal nights had been reduced to three. Being told that beforehand would have prevented most of the women from packing four outfits. The dress for formal nights wasn't as dressy as we'd experienced previously but there were enough tuxedos that my husband didn't feel out of place. Food in the Lido was what we'd expected and reasonably good. It was good to see that only staff were allowed to serve the food for the first few days as a prevention measure against a virus outbreak then the rules were relaxed. The ice-cream bar was a favourite and the praline pecan was the best!We didn't book any ship tours. For the ports we'd been to and knew well we just went into town and looked around. For other that we hadn't visited before, we'd booked a rental car in advance and went exploring. Most of the ports are commercial and you have to take a shuttle bus in and out. They were free in Burnie and Napier but others were provided by the ship at $US15 return per person which was very high especially as they said you couldn't buy a one way ticket. However we found out later that you could in fact get a one-way ticket. Cruising through Milford, Doubtful and Dusky Sounds was a highlight and not to be missed as was the last lovely sunny day of scenic cruising around White Island and other islands before docking in Auckland. The only downside to the trip was the Christchurch earthquake which happened just the day after the ship had been docked in Lyttleton harbour. If it had been a day later, it's hard to imagine that there wouldn't have been casualties among the passengers as so many had gone into the centre of the city. Being New Zealanders, it cast a dampener on our spirits but we were heartened by the sincere sympathy offered by other passengers. As the ship only carried CNN news we did find strange to be in our own country but cut off from all local news. We went and bought newspapers in the next ports and received updates on our cellphones from family. Disembarkation was in Auckland which, with Melbourne and Wellington, had a proper cruise terminal. The silent disembarkation didn't work as well as being called by number which I had on my last cruise with another line. We went at the time given to find there were long queues backed up of people who were due to start a tour. But we were soon off to be greeted by family who'd come to whisk us home - a perfect end to a great cruise. Read Less
Sail Date February 2011
This was our fifth cruise after two South Pacific cruises on the Superstar Leo, a Mediterranean cruise on the Diamond Princess and an Alaskan Cruise on the Sun Princess (and my first review on cruise critic). The Ship The ... Read More
This was our fifth cruise after two South Pacific cruises on the Superstar Leo, a Mediterranean cruise on the Diamond Princess and an Alaskan Cruise on the Sun Princess (and my first review on cruise critic). The Ship The Volendam is quite a bit smaller and older than the newer Princess mega-ships. In general the finishings were not as nice as we had previously experienced - more like a 3.5 to 4 star hotel than the 5 star luxury we had previously experienced. Certainly no areas to make you go "wow". But it was all perfectly acceptable and wouldn't describe it as tired. Fresh flowers appeared every single day all around the ship and gave it a fresh, friendly, feel. Pre-cruise documentation was lousy, with no clear start time or finish time for embarkation, a bug in their on-line check-in, and the wrong number of formal nights on the limited documentation that we got. But embarkation itself was quick and painless. We were in an outside triple cabin near the aft elevator on the 2nd deck. The room was reasonably sized and would have almost have been spacious by cruise ship standards if it didn't contain the third bed. The sofa-bed, once converted to a bed, couldn't go back to being a bed for the duration of the cruise. The bathroom actually had a bath in it and was quite a good size. There were massive amounts of storage. The only annoyance was that the DVD player only played US region DVD's, but there was a massive DVD library on the ship. Being a smaller ship made it very easy to get around. It was less than two minutes for us to get to the furthest room on the ship. It took at least double that on the Diamond Princess. There were lots of little public rooms and it usually wasn't too hard to find a nice spot. The only odd thing was the so-called promenade deck on level 4. Despite being called promenade, it was the only deck that was blocked so you couldn't walk the length of the ship. It and the upper promenade were also the only two decks with no outdoor area. So as long as your promenade didn't involve walking around the ship or going outside, you were fine. One tip for cruisers - at the aft of most levels were nice little seating areas which were great for watching the ocean and usually deserted. The official access was a bit hard to find and could only be done by going upstairs from the rear of the actual promenade (deck three) or down from deck 8, but you also go through the doors at the aft of each level. Our 8 year old loved the kids club and strongly preferred it to spending time with his parents. The swimming pools were a bit small, but the kids loved them. The gym was very good. Food and Drink Overall the food was reasonable, especially once you learnt what they were good at (most eggs, red meat, soups), and what they weren't, (fish, coffee, fresh fruit, hamburgers, cheese), and worked out where to find everything. It wasn't fine dining, but it was enjoyable. We didn't make it to the dining room for breakfast but there were some excellent elements including an eggs benedict bar with eight different types of eggs benedict cooked to order, a waffle bar and freshly squeezed orange juice (much better on the days when you could see them actually squeezing oranges.) One trap was that they didn't necessarily have the same things on both sides of the room so you had to look around. Fresh fruit was lousy by Australian standards -on most days only three times of melon plus grape fruit. But they found room for 5 types of doughnut and a total of 19 different sweet pastries. They also appeared to have boiled the "English" bacon and it was inedible. Other eggs were freshly fried or poached to order, and with the exception of the omelettes (which were slow as well as bland) excellent. Lunch was acceptable in both the dining room and the buffet. Strangely the dining room closed at 1 pm for lunch, which on the 1st day was 12p.m for those with stomachs still on Sydney time and on the second day 11a.m. Lots of people were turned away surprised and disappointed. Lunches could also always be had from the sandwich bar (open until 5pm), and the taco/enchilada/nacho bar (open until 6pm). There was also usually a themed buffet lunch in a corner of the buffet dining room. All of these things took me a few days to discover, and I enjoyed lunch a lot more after that. Dinner was generally quite acceptable. The buffet was excellent as it had exactly the same appetisers delivered to the buffet as the dining room, so the quality was just as good. The meat was grilled on a hot plate behind the buffet and so it was fresh and usually perfectly cooked. I tried fish dishes a few times and was always disappointed, but was always impressed by the lamb or beef. The were a selection of fourteen cheeses on the dinner menu. None of them looked particularly appealing. The first night I ordered the four most likely, but they were all incredibly bland (although given that the Stilton came out orange, I suspect they made a mistake). The biggest problem was the drink service in the open seating dining room. The were two drink stewards for each section of the dining room which meant they each covered around 40 tables. It was rare to be offered a drink within 15 minutes of sitting down, and impossible to get one before at least one and usually two courses had been eaten. It was also impossible to get a second glass of wine. To top it all off you had you get their attention again to pay. Plenty of people were left waiting after their dining companions had left while they tried to pay, while one night we gave up after half an hour and just left. We ate twice at the Pinnacle Grill and enjoyed the more peaceful ambience. I ordered the rib eye on the bone both times, (which strangely came without a bone), but apart from that were as good as any steak I have eaten, (and I have eaten plenty of fancy $60 steaks). The rest of the food was not much better than the dining room, but we thought it was worth the money for a more peaceful, relaxed meal. The only other thing that needs commenting on is the coffee. It was both badly made and had an unpleasant taste - almost certainly the worst coffee I have ever had. Ridiculous American size cups, which even half full were very weak. The expresso shot was thin and weakly extracted, yet still managed to leave an unpleasant aftertaste an hour after the cup was finished. The barista was clueless about the milk, making no attempt to aerate/texture the milk, but instead just jamming the steam wand into the jug ensuring that what came out was half overheated milk and half lukewarm froth. Just terrible. Entertainment The entertainers in each of the bars all added to the occasion, although they all had their flaws as well. The entertainment in the main showroom was mediocre at best and the dancing in particular downright awful at times. Overall it was clearly a substantially lower standard than all our previous cruises. It would hard to imagine any of the performers getting jobs where people actually paid to see them. Ports Each day on board you were given a daily newsletter that had details on the day ahead. On day one this included times for each of the ports. We didn't notice it until later, but for every port except for one, the times were different to those advertised for the cruise including those on the custom itinerary printed off the morning of embarkation. This was particularly annoying as we had planned each day quite carefully and many days we would have planned differently if we knew the correct times. The was also a near disaster in Wellington (more details below). I made a formal complaint but was told it was the port's fault, which clearly wasn't true. Milford/Doubtful/Dusky Sound These were all stunning and the highlight of the cruise. Get outside where you can see both sides of the ship and enjoy it. The Volendam allows access to to very front of the boat which was an excellent viewing area. Stewart Island It rains 330 days a year on Stewart Island and we didn't miss out. Oban is a bit over a 1km walk away over a steep hill. We walked the first km until we could see the village and decided it wasn't worth walking the last 200m. We did a Pelagic bird cruise organised by the ship and loved it. At one point 24 albatrosses were within 3m of the boat fighting over fish scraps that were being thrown in. We also we to Ulva Island via a water taxi that was running once an hour. It is promoted as a bird sanctuary but we were there for two hours and saw 12 birds - less than anywhere else in NZ. On the other hand, it was a beautiful rainforest walk. People who went for the birds were very disappointed. Dunedin Loved Dunedin. One highlight was getting up as we were coming into port and discovering about a hundred sea-birds following the pilot boat (best viewing spot out the back of the ship). We did an organised tour (not through the ship, but through Back to Nature tours) that went to Penguin Place, the Albatross centre and Larnach castle. The penguins and albatross places were excellent, but do their own tours, so we could have driven there ourselves and got the same tour. The rest of the tour including the castle was not as described in the brochure and disappointing. We would have been better off hiring a car. Christchurch We had a fantastic day in Christchurch catching a public bus to the Gondola (good hi speed internet on top of the mountain) and then into the city. We loved punting on the Avon (use the stop that goes past the botanic gardens, not the city stop) but the tram was a waste of money. Saw a kiwi in the modest aquarium. Sadly when we got back to the ship, we were told by the captain that a crew member had drowned while performing "routine maintenance" on one of the lifeboats. We weren't given too many details but it did sound like the ship might have been at fault. For a number of the following days our departures were delayed by a couple of hours while insurance assessors inspected the ship. Wellington Wellington was a disappointment. We were wait-listed for a ship's tour, but didn't get on, as for some reason the ship's excursion people put us on a different tour and took us off the wait-list. We got our money back for the tour we didn't want, but missed out on the one we did. We hired a car which was harder to organise than we expected (although the i-site did it in the end), but didn't really see anything exciting until we came back to the city and went to Te Papa museum which was great. Another problem came at the end of the day. The ships running sheet told us that shuttle buses would be running until 4pm for a 5 pm departure. We got back to the i-site bus stop around ten past three. As the queue started building, an i-site staff member came out out and asked what we were all doing. When we said waiting for a bus, he told us that the last one went at 3pm and we would need to work out our own way of getting back to the boat. But by the time 20 people were waiting he decided that he would try to get one of the shuttle bus drivers to come back to work and take us all back. Luckily he found somebody prepared to do it, as including the other stop in the city, there were about 100 stranded passengers. Then when we got back to the port I tried to hire one of the internet terminal that were there, only to be told that they had all been turned off because our ship was about to leave at 4pm. I told them that it wasn't leaving until five, but they assured me I was wrong as the official port record said 4pm and the tugs were on their way and about to move the boat (and refused to turn the internet on). I boarded the ship and sure enough the tugs arrived - and had to turn around in circles for an hour until we left. The original cruise schedule we were given had a 4pm departure for Wellington, so it seems clear that when the ship decided to stay the extra hour, they forgot to tell the port. They also didn't officially tell us either (you had to notice on the daily running sheet), which was pretty annoying as we would have planned our time differently. This was also why the shuttle buses (that were put on by the port), stopped at three. I asked the ship what was happened, but they said it wasn't the ship's fault. Napier Napier itself is pretty but very small. We did the ship's Arch of the Ancestors tour and enjoyed it and the drive through the countryside. I expect that a wine tour would have been good as well. Tauranga Tauranga was excellent and well set up for ships with lots of hire cars available directly on the dock. It also looked like a lovely seaside town to spend a day. We did a full day tour to Rotorua with Mount Classics tours which was fantastic. It included Wai o Tapu which is a bit further from Tauranga, but worth the effort. The tour moved at a brisk pace, but we probably saw twice as much as the ship's tour. Auckland Auckland was interesting, as we woke up, opened our curtains, and were staring straight into the window of a hotel. We thought we were parked on land, but in fact it was the Hilton hotel which shares the port with the passenger ship terminal. It really is in the middle of down-town Auckland. We did a ships tour to a stunning black sandy beach called Piha about 45 minutes away on the west coast of NZ. It was followed by a walk in a nearby forest that included a chance to see "majestic kauri trees". Well there were kauri trees, except they were all relatively young as the entire kauri forest was milled around 100 years ago, so there were no large kauri trees left. We enjoyed the tour, but hiring a car would have been just as good and about a third the price (for the three of us). We then caught a free shuttle to Kelly Tarlton's acquarium. Warning - the shuttle bus is small, runs once an hour, and stops picking up once it has 21 passengers. The majority of the queue at the second (Sky Tower) stop wasn't able to get on. We loved the aquarium, especially the penguins. However since then we have been to Melbourne Aquarium which we thought was even better again, thanks largely to 30 penguins that they purchased from Kelly Tarltons. We then enjoyed the view from the Sky Tower, which took three times as long to get to using the free city shuttle bus than it did to walk back. We finally checked out the mega yachts that were berthed very close to the ship. Quite amazing. Unfortunately our sailaway party was again delayed past sunset because of the crew member's death, but the desert buffet had to be seen to be believed. Bay of Islands Our last stop was Waitangi in the Bay of Islands - changed from Russell about three weeks before we arrived. However this changed wasn't recognised on the daily sheet or the notices on the dock - more evidence of poor organisation. Sorry to keep going on about this, but we did wonder with this lack of attention to detail was also responsible for the crewmembers death which put such a dampener on the cruise. Waitangi was beautiful but unfortunately we did a fairly mediocre Glow Worm cave tour that did a couple of unexpected stops and went for 6 hours rather that the advertised 3 ¾ hours. They day started with an announcement over the PA that the had forgotten to allow for the fact it was a tender port when putting the time on the tour tickets, and so could we arrive at the meeting place 20 minutes before the time on the tickets. We promptly left our breakfast unfinished and missed seeing the dolphins alongside the ship to get there when requested - only to wait half an hour until 10 minutes after the time on the ticket. The tour started with a stop at the North Mission House that didn't get a mention in the tour description. It turned out to be the second oldest building in NZ. It had a few mildly interesting historical exhibits, but it was hardly worth an hour. Next was a stop at a small town to look at their public toilet! No mention of this 40 minute stop at all on the description. It was actually a fascinating toilet, with free wi-fi, plus a very enjoyable small town, and even included a steam train going down the middle of main street while we were there. It was actually well worth a stop - but not as advertised. It was made worse by us all spending 20 minutes on the bus while some incredibly rude family wandered up and down the street after we had all been told to return to the bus. Finally we got to the glow-worm tour of a cave. After saying there could be no more than 20 in a group, they promptly created a group of 30 and sent us off. Only the front 20 had any light and the last ten were left stumbling in the dark and unable to hear anything. In the second glow-worm viewing area (and there are only two) the last ten of us couldn't even fit in to the area and weren't even aware that there were glow-worms there. When we asked why we had stopped for five minutes we were told not to worry about it and keep on walking (no apology or anything). In the end we refused to move and waited for the next group to catch up so we could find out what was going on. The glow-worms were beautiful but the caves nothing special. The tour would have been acceptable (just) if it had kept to the scheduled time, but we wished we had stayed in town and/or done a dolphin cruise that left from the Paihia pier (free shuttle provided from the Waitangi wharf) instead. One final warning. In the one hour we had left in town after the tour ran so far over time, we thought we would have a glass of wine and a bite to eat at a restaurant on the Paihia pier. The experience was great, but we made the mistake of ordering a dozen Bay of Islands oysters. The oysters are literally six times the size of a normal oyster. I like my oysters, but these were just too big to eat and enjoy. Between the three of us we only finished ten of them and we really struggled with the last three. Avoid unless you really, really love the taste of oyster. Sydney We disembarked in Sydney. Maybe it was because we were locals, but we were off the boat, through customs and in a taxi within 15 minutes of the scheduled time for our section to start disembarking. No queues or delays at any stage. And if you haven't visited Sydney before - it is a great place to visit. Summary In the end, we had a very enjoyable cruise, once we knew what to expect and how to make the most of the ship. The customer satisfaction survey asked whether your main priority for cruising was to enjoy the ship/entertainment/dining as a destination, to simply have a relaxed holiday, or to enjoy the ports you visit. We found the Volendam excellent for the last two of these, but no good at all for the first. We would happily travel on her again if the price was right. Not a premium cruising experience, but definitely a ship where you can have an enjoyable holiday. Read Less
Sail Date January 2011
In a lot of ways, the whole exceeded the sum of the parts as we had a wonderful time (despite a number of little issues) because of very good weather (other than cyclones at the end), exotic ports of call, and a great crew. Embarkation was ... Read More
In a lot of ways, the whole exceeded the sum of the parts as we had a wonderful time (despite a number of little issues) because of very good weather (other than cyclones at the end), exotic ports of call, and a great crew. Embarkation was a non-event for this cruise, as we had done the ship's previous cruise to NZ -- getting off and back on in Sydney was a breeze. Disembarkation was also smooth (despite the misinformation described below). On the positive side, the crew overall were superb .. cabin stewards, restaurant and buffet people, the Pinnacle grill staff, the (too few) wine stewards, and the front office staff were all warm and helpful. They made a point of remembering our names and our food/drink preferences. We enjoyed breakfasts on a wonderful balcony (albeit with periodic smoking (even CIGAR) problems from next door) and lovely meals in the Rotterdam dining room. We opted for the open dining time but never waited for a table as the maitre'd took care to seat us at a table by ourselves without delay. In terms of issues, previous reviews of the Volendam accurately describe it as needing some refurbishing. In addition to the visual evidence of wear and tear, there were also noise problems --- many of the noise and other problems owed to the number of children on board. The main pool became theirs, and the rules against diving and jumping into the pool were totally unenforced. Children ran through the buffet in bathing suits and bare feet; young children were also allowed to run freely in the nightclub. According to an announcement from the captain, teenagers actually trashed one of the lounges one night. While the captain was legitimately upset, it is hard to feel sympathy for HAL, given its encouragement of children with its pricing policies. It would have been good to know beforehand this cruise was specially marketed to families. While service overall was very good, we often bypassed the services of the special Neptune Lounge. Manned by sweet but (to be charitable) inexperienced people, they often seemed overwhelmed by minor requests and seldom provided accurate or timely information. One laughable example was being told definitively by the two staffers that very few taxis would be available on disembarkation in Sydney and that to get even those, a person would have to walk for five minutes and bring the taxi to where you left your luggage -- not at all true on either score. Stick to the front desk .. Entertainment was only fair overall -- while the singers and dancers did an OK job, they repeated their shows from the previous leg; a comedian held over from the previous cruise had little or no prepared material for his performance, and the multi-instrumentalists were bad on multiple instruments. We made the most of the itinerary, taking taxis to distant spots to get to the best snorkeling and swimming. The ship could not make the last scheduled stop in the Isle of Pines --- the captain, who was consistently informative, told us of cyclone problems that required that change. The cruise director was exceptional, deftly handling almost every major event as he had no obvious number 2. The person providing shore information did a nice job although not always with great information on actually getting around to the spots she described. We did very few of the limited activities on board, but enjoyed mightily the well stocked library and DVD collection. Read Less
Sail Date January 2011
I am sure that if you look hard enough in any service industry, you will find matters to criticise. The measure of how good a company is how they respond to those criticisms. I have to say that our trip around NZ on the Volendam was a very ... Read More
I am sure that if you look hard enough in any service industry, you will find matters to criticise. The measure of how good a company is how they respond to those criticisms. I have to say that our trip around NZ on the Volendam was a very pleasant experience and we enjoyed the cruise very much. We were travelling with 2 other couples and did our own thing generally during the day and then met at night for drinks and dinner. The positives: room was a good size, with large bathroom; cabin stewards unobtrusive and efficient; food was excellent (some of the best beef I have eaten); on-board credit was a welcome surprise; the Volendam singers and dancers were excellent; most of the guest entertainers were also excellent; the staff in the main dining room were great (we tried to sit in the same area each night); the gym was excellent with very good staff on hand; the Captain was excellent with his twice-daily briefings (although he seemed shy when we tried to chat with him informally); my wife loved her almost daily omelette; the cost of wine was quite reasonable (it helped that the Aus dollar was better than parity while we were on the ship); my wife found some moisturised that was about a third of the price she pays at home; The negatives: smoking areas pervaded the non-smokers (HAL are considering this issue); our friends found the kids were VERY noisy in the pool area; the coffee generally was rubbish; the TV in the room was set up too high; Eugene, the guitarist on the pool deck could not sing and was a tad annoying if you were trying to read a book or just relax (a nice guy though!); The disappointments: we were unable to get into Milford Sound because of bad weather; we didn't win the bingo; my wife did not get a Royal Flush at the poker!; Christmas dinner was quite disappointing; the weather was not great but we expected that. Other comments: we did not go on any excursions, but did our own thing, really enjoying Napier. Mt Manganui and the Bay of Islands; there were no problems with us bringing a couple of bottles of wine on to the ship at each port. I enjoyed this cruise and would like to experience the service on a higher rated HAL ship. Read Less
Sail Date December 2010
Once an exclusive HAL frequent cruiser, I switched to Celebrity Cruises about seven years ago and have cruised with them for my past nine cruises. Since Celebrity pulled out of the South Pacific and Asia, HAL had the itinerary we wanted so ... Read More
Once an exclusive HAL frequent cruiser, I switched to Celebrity Cruises about seven years ago and have cruised with them for my past nine cruises. Since Celebrity pulled out of the South Pacific and Asia, HAL had the itinerary we wanted so we thought we would give them a try. We were not disappointed. Dining After the itinerary, food is the number one amenity I look for on a cruise. Having cruised multiple times with almost every major cruise line, the exception being Princes, we've concluded Celebrity offers the best overall dining experience. Their specialty restaurants are on par with Cunard while their dining room experience exceeded them. After 14 meals on the Voldendam, I would rate their main dining room experience a notch above Celebrity, making them the best dining room food of the major lines. Unfortunately, their specialty restaurant fell short of equaling those of Cunard or Celebrity. The Pinnacle Grill is basically a steak house. If you are a steak lover, you are in luck. They offer about any cut of steak you want, done with almost any sauce or preparation. And they are excellent. Outside of steak, they don't do much else that's worth paying the extra $20 a person. One thing we really enjoyed were the special theme dinners. On our cruise the offered two nights of "dining with the chef" and a special wine dinner which were both outstanding and a lot of fun. The cellar master, Ingo, had a lot to do with the "fun" aspect of the dinner, but more on him later. While they cost $65 to $80 a person, we felt they were worth the money and one of the highlights of our cruise. Ingo, the head cellar master on our cruise, was especially knowledgeable about wine and a complete show himself. It's staff like Ingo that almost single handedly can make a 'nice' cruise into a memorable cruise that one will talk about for years to come. I don't know what HAL is paying him, but they would do well to treat him real good. Some other food extras were cappuccino's after meals and fresh squeezed orange juice in the morning. One major complaint I've had with Celebrity, until they copped on a year ago, is the quality of their coffee. It's just miserable, which seems to be the standard of coffee at sea. One would think a machine could be developed that gave you the choice of a weak or strong cup of coffee. Unfortunately, even their coffee bar didn't really serve a good cappuccino. In similar fashion, our servers seemed convinced that 2% milk was cream. It took repeated requests and determination to actually get half-and-half in their dining rooms. If you want half-and-half in your coffee, your best bet is to go to the Lido. Another weakness, and this isn't just HAL, was their wine prices. They were typically 3 to 4 times the retail price. Fortunately, HAL allows you to bring you own wine for an $18 corkage fee. This is a plus in my book. By bringing my own wine, I not only drank better wine than offered on the ship, but it was cheaper by 20% than ordering from the ship. I do hope they keep their corkage fees reasonable, as opposed to Celebrity that raised their corkage fees to $25. Drinking my own wine on vacation adds a level of enjoyment for me and is always a big consideration as to what line I'll cruise. However, when you add up the pros and cons of the HAL dining experience, I put HAL on par with Celebrity, which in my books is an accomplishment. Cabins I found the rooms standard and on par with any other major line. However, you need to understand I typically purchase the cheapest cabin on the ship and spend my savings on shore excursions and food! So, in my book, if you've seen one inside cabin, you've seen them all. We got a quad to sleep our family of four. I was a bit surprised that we did not get two bunk beds, but only one. They made the small couch into a fourth bed. This really cut down on our usable space. I will be a little more diligent about being sure a quad means two bunk beds in the future. The big negative for us is that we got a smoking room. Since my family is non-smokers, this was rather unpleasant. Tried as hard as they could, they were unable to eradicate the smoke smell from our room. That was after shampooing the carpet, replacing the shower curtain, and washing the drapes. My advice is that if a non-smoking room is important to you, don't stay in cabin 2664. Better yet, get a clear understanding with HAL prior to the cruise that if you end up in a smoking room that you will be switched to another room or compensated. I'll be adding that to my booking request list for any line in the future. One positive note was that their towels were heavy and fluffy. The stewards were pleasant and responsive. Fitness Both my wife and I work out daily, so a good fitness center is important to us. Compared with other fitness centers, I would rate the Volendam's as sufficient. They had a minimal amount of cardio equipment and the basics of what's needed for a reasonable weigh workout. Probably the most notable feature was that all of their equipment was functional and working. This has not been our experience on other cruises, where it isn't unusual for up to ½ of the cardio machines to be in need of repair. Since the cruise was comprised of mostly older folks, you could generally use the equipment without waiting. One note of caution, be careful using the triceps pulley machine. Rather than being held in place by pins, the pulley is held in place by a screw. This is fairly unusual with machines like this and makes them a bit unstable if the screw loosens a bit. I was changing weights, and without warning, it dropped six feet giving my wrist a pretty good blow. Holding my bruised wrist, I pointed out how dangerous this machine was to the staff person on duty, Carin. She decided it was certainly not the machine's fault but obviously something I had done incorrectly. I would suggest Carin needs a refresher in customer service. The ship has a small dry sauna and a steam sauna. While the dry sauna is free, you must by a pass for the duration of the cruise to use the steam sauna. It's not available on a "per use" basis. I found this rather annoying, as we only had 4 sea days on our 14 day cruise. The amortized cost for using the steam sauna on the 4 sea days came to about $40 per visit, clearly not a reasonable deal. Ports of Call Our cruise started at Sydney, with two Australia stops in Melbourne and Bernie, and six in New Zealand at Milford Sound, Dunedin, Christchurch, Picton, Wellington, Napier, Tauranga, and Auckland. We booked all our shore excursions online, or used public transportation, rather than using the ship's tours. We saved a bundle and in most cases we got a personalized tour. The savings was significant compared with the ship's excursion prices. I would guess we saved 1/3 to ½ on most tours by doing them online. Bernie was a great stop. The locals were extraordinarily welcoming. We took a local tour to Wings Zoo, where we saw the Tasmanian Devils, and other creatures native to Tasmania. If you can, time your visit to arrive around 1 pm when they are feeding the little creatures. It's an interesting experience to watch. Milford Sound and the Fjordlands was a bust for us only because the weather didn't cooperate. It was so foggy we hardly saw a thing the entire day. I've heard there are some majestic mountains in New Zealand, but I couldn't attest to that fact! We will have to return someday on a sunny day to see them for ourselves. Dunedun was our favorite stop for wildlife. The highlight, and the best tour of the cruise, was a done by Elm Wildlife Tours. It was one of the best wildlife experiences we've ever had and something you will never experience using the ships tours. We were able to view rare yellow-eyed penguins in the wild and even came upon a fur seal pup just hours after it was born. In Christchurch we did the Antarctic Experience and the Willowbank Animal Reserve, which we really liked. It was similar to Featherdale in Sydney. It was the only stop where we actually saw a Kiwi bird. The Antarctic Experience's highlight for us were seeing the penguins and taking the back stage tour to see them. However, this isn't cheap as it cost our family of four about $245NZ. The Marlborough Sound was a beautiful area and who can beat a day of winery crawling tasting all those amazing Sauvignon Blancs. We especially liked Framingdale and Nautalis. Wellington is New Zealand's largest city and the shuttle from the ship to town is $15US. Take the shuttle, as it is much too far to walk. We spent our day at the Te Papa Museum. Why HAL spends only 6 hours in Napier and 12 in Tauranga is puzzling to us. Napier is a cute town with plenty of shops and eateries to explore. There is a lot to do in the surrounding area, not to mention all the Hawke's Bay wineries. The stop was just too short. By comparison, Tauranga pales in comparison. The big attraction is Roturana which is an hour's drive from the port. We suggest you rent a car or book a tour and head to see New Zealand's answer to Yellowstone Park and learn more about the Mori culture. You can easily see all you need to see in 6 to 7 hours, making it puzzling why HAL gives you 12 hours here. Everything considered, I was really pleased with my experience on the Volendam and will not hesitate in the future to sail with them again. Read Less
Sail Date November 2010
About US: We are recently retired (teacher, nurse), in our early 60's, fairly active, and have enjoyed 16 cruises on many different lines. We see cruising as a way to unpack once and visit different places without worrying about where ... Read More
About US: We are recently retired (teacher, nurse), in our early 60's, fairly active, and have enjoyed 16 cruises on many different lines. We see cruising as a way to unpack once and visit different places without worrying about where to eat our meals. We select cruise based on the itinerary. We enjoy being on the water, as we sail out own boat in the summer on the Great Lakes. We do a lot of research when planning our cruises and use CC and Trip Advisor as well as travel guides. We do not take ship excursions, prefer to do our own thing ashore, and do not need to be constantly "pampered" by the crew. Why Alaska?-This was my wife's retirement trip. She had always wanted to see Hawaii, so we booked RCCL Rhapsody from Vancouver to Hawaii (12 nights-Sept 17). We had never been to Alaska. It was not on our "list". But since we were going to be in Vancouver anyway, I saw that we could go in early and take the Volendam to Alaska, returning to Vancouver for 2 nights before our Hawaii cruise. So we booked it. We called it our Fire and Ice cruise. Pre-Cruise - We found that it was quite expensive for us to fly into Vancouver, so we saved a lot of money and flew to Seattle. Money saved was use to pay for 2 nights in Seattle (Hotel Vintage Park) and then take AMTRAK to Vancouver the day before our cruise. We saw a Mariner's game at Safeco Field, visited Gold Rush Museum, took a tour of Pike Place Market (Savor Seattle Tours), and enjoyed our 2 days. We bought first class train tickets (well worth the extra cost) and took the morning train to Vancouver the day prior to leaving for Alaska. In Vancouver, we stayed at Coast Coal Harbor Hotel; 4 blocks from Canada Place, less than a year old, very nice. We toured Stanley Park and the downtown area. At evening, we took the sea bus across to North Vancouver and had dinner while watching sunset over Vancouver. Embarkation: Left hotel about noon for $5 taxi ride to Canada Place. Nice terminal set up and quickly through check-in. On board by 12:30. Volendam: Smaller ship but just right for Inside Passage. Good service, nice crew, very good entertainment, good food. We had an inside cabin on Promenade Deck, so we could use the outside walkway after leaving our room. We ate 5 nights in dining room and 2 in the Canaletto. Breakfasts and lunch was in Lido. Good food in all areas. No real complaints on ship or crew. We used the gym 2 times. Ports: Our day in Glacier Bay was nice and relaxing. We viewed the glaciers and used the hot tubs in the pm. Nice sitting in the tub and viewing snow covered peaks. Juneau-we took a dockside bus to Mendenhall Glacier (15 minutes-$7 each way) and spent about an hour viewing the glacier. Did not care for downtown Juneau. Walked around for 30 minutes and then back on ship. Skagway-we rented a car from Avis ($114) and drove up to Emerald Lake in the Yukon. Very beautiful and varied scenery. Stopped at Spirit lake Lodge for pie and coffee. Took many pictures. Trip up and back was about 5 hours. This, and Glacier Bay, were the most enjoyable days. Walked around Skagway for about an hour. Cute town but not much there. Ketchikan-Seemed like a real town. Walked the streets for about 2 hours and watched thousands of salmon spawning. SUMMARY-Overall, it was an enjoyable, relaxing cruise. Many people love Alaska, but I guess it is not our thing. We live in Michigan and can see similar towns and scenery in our upper peninsula. We have seen whales jumping in Mexico. What made this cruise enjoyable was the weather. Although we were warned not to go in September, each day was clear blue sky and about 50-60 degrees. Were never cold and Ketchikan was shirt sleeves weather. If it had been cold and rainy, I would have felt like this was a waste of money. I saw Alaska, it was pretty, but of our 16 cruises, this is the only one I would not do again. But if you are choosing to do this, I suggest Vancouver as it is one of the prettiest cities I have ever seen. Read Less
Sail Date September 2010
We arrived in Anchorage on July 24, 2010 for our 11-night Holland America Cruisetour 2A The land portion was spectacular if not frenetic. The pace was blistering but most enjoyable. Of the many highlights that stand out, I will recount ... Read More
We arrived in Anchorage on July 24, 2010 for our 11-night Holland America Cruisetour 2A The land portion was spectacular if not frenetic. The pace was blistering but most enjoyable. Of the many highlights that stand out, I will recount but just a few. First, the Westmark Hotels were great, and the Westmark Inn in Dawson was spectacular. The service and food at most locations was of the highest quality and most appreciated. The train ride to Denali was a scenic wonder and the food quality and service on the train was five star. The Prime Rib dinner was exceptional. Our tour director, Kyle Kendall, and driver "Doris" will live in our hearts and memories forever. They both were excellent in their duties and their abilities to always go above and beyond what one would expect. Wow!!!!!! The included tours were all very good and very enjoyable, but the most enjoyable and what our fellow travelers agreed was the finest tour they ever encountered was the optional "Jeff King's Husky Homestead Tour" just outside of Denali Park. Absolutely fantastic! An oportunity to try panning for gold at the Eldorado Gold Mine was fun and profitable (I made $20 in gold). The ride from Whitehorse to Skagway on the White Pass Railroad was as scenic as anyone ever deserves. It is truly beautiful. In Skagway we boarded the Volendam for our cruise to Vancouver We didn't board in Sitka as it may state above. This form just doesn't list Skagway as a port of embarkation and you can't submit a review unless you put in a port of embarkation; so I opted for Sitka instead of Singapore. The only thing we expected on the Volendam was the same outstanding service and quality that we had become accustomed to on the Zuiderdam and the Rotterdam; and you know what? We got it! The Lido Deck Restaurant Manager "Neil" wast at the top of his game, and impressed us all. Our cabin attendants , Deden and Agus, kept our stateroom spotless and stocked with fresh ice and necessities. And "Lucky" at the 'Dinner Reservation' desk always got us the dinner times we wanted for the "As you like it" or "Open Dining" in the Dining Room. What we didn't expect and got was a whiff of something that smelled akin to walking past a campground 'outhouse' every time we traversed the distance from our elevator to our cabins 2713 and 2711. So, for four days, we had to endure this unpleasantness because no one could figure out why it smelled. Or they just pretended ignorance. My suggestion to the 'Guest Relations" staff was to move the Captain's quarters down to 2713. I am sure that he would have had the problem corrected post-haste. I first made our cabin steward aware of the problem, but all he could do was spray the hall with a flowery odorizer that all-too-soon disappeared. I then contacted Guest Relations and talked to a young, anguished-looking female trying to formulate an adequate response in an English language that was certainly not her first language. As expected, that was doomed for failure before I left the desk. So, I wrote the following poem, and requested that it be delivered to the head of on board 'guest relations'. The Volendam She's called the SS Sewer-dam. I don't know what's the fuss, Her halls smell like a cesspool to the Deck 2 folks - that's us! We told our faithful steward, he sprayed the halls to smell, Like a floral garden, whose petals too soon fell. We then went to the front desk, and reported the odor of waste They promised us quick action, but moved at a glacial pace. So you can call us stinky. It's what Holland America would want! Thank God we're only on her for a stinking four-day jaunt. This got us an almost immediate response from a very pleasant Ms. Claudia Duschl, who visited our cabin and to whom we also pointed out the carpeted-over holes in our stateroom floor. The holes were of varying sizes from small 4 or 5 inch wide holes to one nearly 10 inches long in which my wife tripped and fell, thankfully without sustaining any significant injury. This stateroom SHOULD NOT have been available for occupancy given its' state of hazard...... BUT....... In addition to the problems we encountered in our stateroom 2713, I would be totally remiss in not advising you of the total breakdown of safety protocols aboard the Volendam for those passengers who boarded in Skagway, Alaska on July 31, 2010. During the first day, passengers were invited to a 'mandatory' boat drill to learn proper evacuation etiquette should the need arise to employ such actions. We were advised that if we attended the first day, then we would not have to attend the next day. Quite bluntly, life boat drills, though a pain in the rear, are absolutely necessary to maintain life safety. I opted to go on the first day along with some fellow passengers. To say it was handled properly would be akin to saying the Keystone Kops are a professional police organization. Total disarray seemed to be the order of the day during the drill. Crew members could not locate passenger names or cabins and did not even check to see that both members of the cabin were present, and then had trouble reading the ID cards even with their reading glasses. There was but a handful of passengers present, AND MY WIFE wasn't one of them. She was napping in our cabin, opting to attend the drill the following day. OOPS!!! There was no life boat drill the next day......the Captain and Crew of the good ship Volendam forgot to have the life boat drill. As far as I am concerned, every other disorder or problem one could encounter at sea pales in comparison to the potential disaster that could occur because the Captain and crew failed to properly carry out their "mandated duties". I am shocked that this was not done, and received nothing but blank stares and dumb looks when I broached the subject with crew members. The Volendam is an accident waiting to happen.....you would be well-advised to avoid her. Having sailed on the Zuiderdam in May, I know Holland America is much more than the disappointment of the Volendam. And I wholeheartedly hope that everyone gets to experience the Alaskan/Klondike tour of a lifetime as we have. Read Less
Sail Date July 2010
For our fourth anniversary, my wife and I booked a cabin on the 7-day roundtrip Alaska cruise on the ms Volendam. For my wife, this was her first cruise to Alaska, and the first on Holland America. On the other hand, I am a veteran on more ... Read More
For our fourth anniversary, my wife and I booked a cabin on the 7-day roundtrip Alaska cruise on the ms Volendam. For my wife, this was her first cruise to Alaska, and the first on Holland America. On the other hand, I am a veteran on more than 20 cruises, four of which have been to Alaska and four on Holland America. In fact, Holland America had gradually become my cruise line of choice - my previous cruises had been great (and I am a little biased, being part Dutch). She already has a cruise line preference - and it's a good one - but I told her that Holland America was better and that she would love it. This cruise sailed from Vancouver, calling at Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan, in addition to cruising through Tracy Arm and Glacier Bay. Alaska did not disappoint. It is spectacular, and the 900+ photos and videos we took during our trip really do not do justice to it. You have to experience it for yourself. Even though I have now done five cruises to Alaska, some of them covering the same territory, the weather, sea conditions, seasons and times of day sailing through different areas make each cruise very distinct to me. My wife spent much of the cruise out on deck, looking for whales, orcas, dolphins, bears and eagles, all of which were plentiful. Holland America, on the other hand, was a mixed bag on this cruise. Some things were very good. Others were a big disappointment, and at this time I am not sure what the future holds as far as our cruise plans are concerned. Let me list the positives first: 1 - We like the design of the Volendam. It is a comfortable ship, with lots of outdoor space, which we love. It is easy to get around the decks without having to go inside, which I love (there are little stairways forward and aft). There is some wear and tear visible - to be expected on a ship ten years old. That will probably be addressed in the scheduled drydock next year. 2 - The staff was virtually all friendly and helpful. 3 - The food was quite good, without exception. 4 - Our cabin steward, Sugi, was excellent. 5 - Cabin #6102, which I selected myself, was good. It is one of two forward-looking cabins on the ship, and is an unusual layout for a "D" grade cabin. For those interested, it is a few steps from one of the forward observation decks. This means that when weather is good, you and lots of other people can exit the port doorway onto the deck. Convenient, but a bit noisy. When weather is bad, the proximity to the exposed outdoor deck is meaningless - you won't want to be out there. Those who want quick deck access might do better on the Lower Promenade deck. Nonetheless, we were satisfied. 6 - We do not spend a lot of time in the lounges or anywhere else indoors. for us, the entertainment is mostly outside. So, no comment on entertainment, casino, spa, etc., etc. I will say that the wine tastings with Alvin the cellar master were enjoyable. Now, on to other matters: For my part, I detest cigarette, cigar and pipe smoke. But, it's just a personal dislike (I find it disgusting). I deal with it for the most part. For my wife, it's more of a health issue (she's allergic to smoke and has asthma - we have had no problem on our other cruises). When we boarded, I reviewed the information in the booklet entitled "The Voyage Begins' with my wife. It states that smoking is permitted in the Casino, the Sports Bar, outside on Deck 9 aft and Deck 3 on the starboard side. So, I warned her to avoid those areas. I tried to make sure she understood what areas were smoke-free, and told her that if she ventured into the smoking areas she would just have to deal with the consequences. The first day we had bad weather, so were not on deck that much. However, during days 2 and 3 we were on deck quite a bit and noticed smokers in the bow, the stern, the port side, the starboard side, the upper decks, the lower decks, etc - basically, everywhere, including all the areas we understood they were not supposed to be. On day 4 my wife finally mentioned this to a staff member and was told that smoking was permitted on the outside decks. She told me this, and I said "what??" I went to the Front Desk and asked the same question, receiving the same answer. To make a long story short, I never did get an explanation as to why the "Voyage Begins" leaflet contained a different written policy. I expressed my frustration, and was told that this would be communicated to a supervisor, and that I would receive a courtesy call. No such call was ever received. We did receive a guest survey, and another one-page questionnaire asking a number of questions regarding a total ban on smoking. I have never advocated a total ban on smoking. I would much rather find a way to accommodate both those who smoke, and those who cannot deal with smoke at all, so that all can find a way to peacefully co-exist and enjoy the thrill of a cruise and especially the wonders of the great outdoors. During the remaining days, we heard some encouraging words about how seriously Holland America took our concerns. However, we saw absolutely nothing in terms of action. Not one thing. My wife continued to encounter smokers virtually everywhere. She would find a nice deck chair in the "non-smoking" area, get comfortable, and twenty minutes later a guy with a cigar would wander by. There was almost no area out on deck in which we did not encounter smokers. So, after spending well over $3,500 and telling my wife for several years how great Holland America Line was, I was told that she would never sail with Holland America again. You can probably understand how that made me feel. On day 6, we received our debarkation information. For some reason, my wife and I got different debarkation times even though we had submitted a paper stating that we were both transferring to Vancouver airport to pick up a rental car. A trip to the Front Desk resolved this problem. Later, we received our preliminary bill, and noted that we had been billed twice for the same excursion tickets. Another trip to the Front Desk. During the day we continued to encounter smokers everywhere out on deck. No action whatsoever by the crew to discourage this. Oh, well. After our arrival in Vancouver, we were standing on deck facing the terminal when someone nearby lit up a cigarette. I reminded my wife that we were on the wrong side of the ship, so we went to the non-smoking port side. Not ten minutes later a gentleman walked out onto the deck and lit a cigar. We looked at each other and rolled our eyes. We headed back to our cabin before going for breakfast in the Lido and noticed our final bill. Guess what? Those double-billed excursion tickets that were supposed to be taken care of? They were still in there. Another trip to the Front Desk, and more standing in line. I was still being polite. After all, as a great theologian once observed, stuff happens (not his exact words, but you get the idea). After waiting in line at the Front Desk, we had breakfast, then headed back to our cabin to look for our excellent steward, Sugi, to reward him with his tip (this was in addition to the $11 per day fee automatically charged to our account). We finally found him, and headed for the gangway. We debarked, and headed straight for baggage claim. By this time we were a little late (see above for explanation). Once in the terminal, a young lady with a clipboard asked our cabin number, and promptly began berate us, much as a schoolmarm would scold an unruly ten-year old, because we were an hour late, and a bus full of people had been sitting at the curb for a whole hour waiting for us. What was wrong with us? Way to go, Holland America! You sure know how to put the icing on the cake. In all my years of travelling I have never had someone pull this on me. This time, I unloaded my frustration on her, and she shut up but did not offer an apology. We got to the bus, apologised to the driver for any delay, and discovered that they had not been waiting very long after all, the bus was only half full, and we continued to wait for another 15 or 20 minutes for other passengers to arrive. I'm really sorry to have to write a review like this on what was formerly my favourite cruise line. Was this a one-time experience? I hope so. But in all honesty, there is no way I am booking another cruise with Holland America at this time, not at least if my wife is with me. I do sometimes cruise solo since my wife spends a good amount of holiday time with her elderly mother and family in South America. Am I ready to give them another chance on a solo cruise? I may at some point give them another chance, but it depends very much on what response I receive from the home office (I am sending them a letter with all the details). The smoking issue is the real deal-breaker for me. What do I really want? Not a total smoking ban, as pleasing as that would be. I would prefer to find a way to accomodate everyone if that is possible. There needs to be a policy absolutely restricting smoking to certain areas, both inside and out, it needs to be very clearly communicated to passengers and crew, and it needs to be strictly enforced. That's it. If Holland America is willing to deal with this problem proactively, I might give them another chance someday. I certainly hope that is the case. Meanwhile, we are planning another cruise with my wife's cruise line of choice. Read Less
Sail Date May 2010
Holland America's ms Volendam Circumnavigation of Australia 14 March-17 April 2010, roundtrip out of Sydney, 34 days with 18 ports of call. We sailed with about 1250 passengers, primarily from the U.S., Canada, Britain, and Australia. ... Read More
Holland America's ms Volendam Circumnavigation of Australia 14 March-17 April 2010, roundtrip out of Sydney, 34 days with 18 ports of call. We sailed with about 1250 passengers, primarily from the U.S., Canada, Britain, and Australia. Pre-cruise Travel I elected to fly United Airlines to Sydney because I have elite status with them and can enjoy Premium Economy seating and free baggage. I selected to fly via San Francisco because the airport is more compact and better organized than Los Angeles. The flights went well with only minor turbulence and we arrived just few minutes late in Sydney. I had pre-booked online with KST Airport Shuttle for transportation to my hotel. They charge 12.60 AUD (pre-pay) or 14.00 AUD (pay at time of service). There was a little bit of confusion finding my driver in the airport and he had other passengers to drop first, but I find their service reliable and easy to use. I flew into Sydney two days early in order to have time to unwind, do a little sightseeing, and more importantly to have a cushion of time in case of flights going awry. There were several people who missed the ship in Sydney and had to catch up in another port, and several others who did not have their bags arrive on time for our sailing. The ship was scheduled to sail from Darling Harbour Pier 8 which is over the hill from the more famous Circular Quay area. I wanted to find affordable lodging within walking distance of our pier and I succeeded well with Napoleon on Kent at 219 Kent St., a two-block downhill walk to the passenger terminal. The cost was 150.00 AUD per night (a quite affordable rate for Sydney) for which I got a studio apartment with full kitchenette. Shops, cafes and public transportation were all within a few blocks, although mostly uphill from my location. For pre-cruise sightseeing I had planned to take the train out to the Blue Mountains but discovered at the last minute that there would be no service that weekend due to repair works on the track. A quick email to Sydney's tourist bureau lead me to Grayline Tours which offered an all day Blue Mountains On Your Own tour for 129 AUD. The tour included return bus transport from a pick-up point a few blocks from my hotel to the terminal and on to Katoomba where I was given an all-day ticket for the Blue Mountain Explorer hop-on/hop-off bus which has 29 stops. The pamphlet they give you is very helpful identifying what is located at each stop and recommending walks between stops, of which I took full advantage. The main tourist spot in this area is Scenic World which offers both cable car and "train" access to the valley. The train is a near vertical ride based on the old line used by miners long ago—a sort of mini-thrill ride—whereas the cable car is smooth and pleasant. On the valley bottom there are several boardwalk trails with some historical displays from the mining era as well as interesting flora and wildlife. For the more athletic there is a trail on the rim leading out to the Three Sisters rock formation. Embarkation On embarkation day I walked down to the pier arriving about 10:15 am as check-out time at my hotel was 10 am. There were already quite a number of people waiting in the terminal, some of whom had disembarked and were still waiting for transport. After I dropped off my checked luggage, I was directed to wait outside the terminal where there was some seating; we were told check-in would begin about 11 am. At some point someone came around and passed out group numbers for check-in and handed out immigration forms for us to fill in, but it was closer to 11:30 before we were allowed into the terminal by which time a large group of travel agents had already appeared for a tour and luncheon on the ship. By then things were getting confused. It eventually turned out that those of us who were already Mariners and had done our documents online were suppose to check-in first (Priority Check-in) before Group #1 which meant of lot of line shuffling at the door. More confusion happened mid-day for those of us who wanted to go back into town and reboard later—which way did we go? I got sent back through the whole check-in process again in error. The problem turned out to be locals hired to help at the terminal who were not properly trained. I think there should have been more HAL supervision here. Once on board it took a while to find someone who could tell me where we could store our hand luggage; staff kept directing everyone straight to the Lido buffet. I finally found the location in a corner of the pool area but there was no one there to staff it; that took contacting several more crew members before someone appeared. Then it was off to a pleasant lunch and walk around the ship while we waiting for the "your cabins are now ready" call. While waiting, though, we heard an announcement telling us lifeboat drill would be at 4 pm even though we were not scheduled to sail until 6 pm. That had several people upset, myself included, as many of us had planned on walking around the city that afternoon. In the end the ship scheduled a second drill the next day for those who missed the first day's event. What was nice was that we did not have to bring our lifejackets nor was roll taken. Stateroom I only booked this cruise in late October 2009 and I was booking as a single hoping for the lowest single supplement so my choices were a bit limited. The only lower mid-ship cabins left were next to elevators so I went with a deck 2 inside aft cabin (#2672) which looked to be a quiet location and at a great single rate of about $176 a day. The cabin looked fine upon arrival but the smell—smoke! I immediately went down to the Front Desk to report the problem and to remind them that I had notified the Special Needs department well in advance of my allergy to smoke, but they said they had no record of that. Anyway to make a long story (already reported in detail on CC's Holland America message board) short, it took three days of deep cleaning my cabin, multiple visits to the Front Office, two phone calls to HAL's main office, and the intervention of the my travel agent for them to admit the problem could not be solved (there was a heavy smoker across the hall and the smoke was in the air system). The eventual solution worked out well as they moved me to a nicer cabin, but it should not have taken three days to get there nor should I have been denied an appointment with the Hotel Director which I requested twice. Caveat: if you are allergic to smoke you cannot be guaranteed of a smoke-free cabin on any Holland America ship, so if this is an issue for you look elsewhere. My second cabin, #1902 deck 1 outside mid-ship, was very nice and huge! There was so much storage I didn't know what to do with it all. For those needing extra storage there were two drawers hidden under the foot of the bed and a padded stool that was hollow with a removable seat. The bathroom had one of those mini-tubs of which I'm not a fan, but they provided a rubber bath mat so it was not slippery to get in and out of. The extra tub space gave me more clothes drying room so that I never needed to get in line at the self-service laundry down the hall. There were only two electrical outlets, one U.S. and one European, on the desk so it pays to bring a multiplex extension cord. I use a CPAP machine by the bed and my cord just barely reached. The bed was very comfortable and I had a small loveseat and arm chair as well. They provided this small padded stool for the desk, but I used the armchair there instead—much more comfortable especially as I had brought my laptop for use in the cabin. Even though I was only about 4 doors down from the elevators there was never any noise problem; there were no crew work areas across the hall. However, since I was on deck 1 there was some engine vibration/humming noise with an occasional tapping/chain noise from below (perhaps a repair shop?), but this never bothered me. This cabin was smoke free although by the end of our voyage there was a lingering smoke smell occasionally in the hallway. Ship Information The Volendam is a mid-sized ship with about 1,400 passengers, most of the amenities folks want and nicely decorated. With only nine decks and not a vast length, the Volendam was easy to get around. Many passengers really appreciated the full wrap-around promenade deck for walking. I heard that the ship is due to go into dry-dock spring 2011, but honestly it should have gone this year. Towards the end of our cruise there were often only one-half the passenger elevators operating. There was a small section of cabins portside on deck 1 that was flooded out twice during our cruise, and during a heavy rainfall a "waterfall" suddenly appeared in the ceiling of the Fran Hals Lounge. The crew worked diligently to keep things working as best as possible, but that damp carpet smell never quite left our hallway. Dining I happen to be a great fan of buffet dining as it's quick and you can have small amounts of several things, mixing and matching as you please. Our Lido buffet manager was the best; he was always keeping an eye on things and any problems were quickly resolved. I especially loved the beef and the staff was always willing to additionally cook my portion if there wasn't any "well-done" already available. Overall there were a lot of choices and my only complaint is that sometimes the side dishes were not as hot as one would have liked. Continental breakfast was served beginning at 6 am and hot breakfast started later. The one miss here for me was the lack of fresh whole berries for my granola or waffles in the morning. Both lunch and dinner had a wide assortment of hot and cold entrees, sometimes with theme specialty bars (e.g. Indonesian, Indian, etc.). The evening dessert buffet choices were limited, but the lunch had a wide range of pastries, puddings, cookies, etc. The ice cream bar was open from 11:30 am through dinner and that was often my choice for sweets. I do wish we had lemonade available in the afternoons in addition to ice tea; it makes a nice treat on a hot day. And milk was only readily available in the mornings; otherwise you needed to request it from the back. I only ate in the Main Dining Room a few times. I had Opening Seating which I liked as we could go into dinner right at 5:15 pm whereas First Fixed Seating was not until 5:45 pm. Service was fine and the food good. At 3 pm each day the Dining Room offered Tea, which on a few afternoons had special themes. The most popular was the Aussie Tea with local favorites such as Anzac cookies and scones. The Dining Room was also the location of the Mariner luncheons which were scheduled throughout our voyage based on star level. There was no Mariner luncheon on embarkation day because the ship hosted a large group of local travel agents that day (something they repeated in several of our ports). I ate at the specialty restaurant Pinnacle Grill ($20 charge) just once when the Cruise Critic group got together near the end of our cruise. I was not very impressed. Yes, you got very personal service and the cut of steak was just a bit better than the regular dining venues but the chocolate soufflE was tasteless, and I did not think it was worth the extra charge. We had two other small dining outlets on the ship. The Terrace Grill offered hamburgers and hot dogs as well as a small salad bar, a taco bar, and pizza. It was not a very attractive set up and there were no drinks, not even water, available so that you had to bring something from the Lido buffet or order from the bar on the opposite side of the pool. The Explorations Cafe next to the library offered specialty coffees and teas for sale and provided free pastries and appetizers. On other cruise lines I've been able to get hot milk for free at the coffee bar (I bring my own special hot chocolate mix) and I was unpleasantly surprised when the man staffing the bar turned me down, quite rudely I might add. My only option for hot milk was in the mornings in the buffet. There are, of course, several bar areas as well as a Wine Tasting Bar on board but since I don't drink I cannot say much about them. However, I did want to thank the Beverage Manager, Nigel Thomas, who helped organize several meetings for our Cruise Critic group. Activities Athletic facilities on the ship included the two pools, a fitness center, a basketball court, a small tennis court, and a short jogging track. The fitness center was well equipped and there was a small wood-floored class area that could be used for stretching and yoga. The aft Lido pool was right next to a smoking area so I never got to use that pool. The other pool had a sliding covered roof which gave it some protection during inclement weather. The most popular physical activity on board, however, seemed to be walking around the promenade deck—all ages, all physicalities were out there every day in all weather chugging their way around. The daily program listed several culinary and craft activities each day but since I never participated I cannot comment on them. Although I do want to note that one of our own Cruise Critic group members, Peter, won the cook-up contest with his special chili. The ship also offered some group games and the team trivia seemed to be the most popular. The lectures that were offered on board were quite good and on sea days we usually had three offered. From Sydney to Freemantle we had on board two biologists from the University of Tasmania who lectured on flora and fauna and environmental issues; whereas from Freemantle to Sydney we had two retired military officers who focused on military history, in particular World War II. From Darwin to Brisbane we added a special local reef pilot to guide us through the Great Barrier Reef and he provided additional lectures as well. The ship's Tour/Port Director, Chris Fisher, offered port lectures as well as a few history and wildlife lectures of his own. His background happened to be in birding so he helped organize an ad hoc birding group; we met on deck several times to look for sea birds. I did participate in the computer classes that were offered in a special classroom sponsored by Microsoft. Classes covered the new Windows 7 operating system plus the programs that come with it including web pages, movie making and photo editing. The instructor Kristan was excellent. The classroom was also open for "lab time" for passengers to work on their own photo projects. The Photography Department teamed with the instructor to offer a photo contest in several categories which was quite popular. The Volendam's library was fantastic with a large selection of both fiction and non-fiction books available for checkout. There were also a large number of travel books for help in planning for this cruise and future cruises. The very comfortable chairs and couches were often full on sea days. There was a large table for picture puzzles, another with a globe and atlases, and board games available. Combined with the library was the internet center which had about 14 computers; wireless was available throughout most of the ship. Internet packages were available from about 25-65 cents a minute. I purchased a 500 minute package thinking that would be more than enough, but discovered that their service was very slow and not always reliable. I ended up having to buy another package later. In addition to the regular daily activities, the ship occasionally organized a special event. One at-sea Sunday we had a "Market Day" by the pool. The crew decorated small carts and served special drinks and food. The on-board stores had specials flea market style including half-priced t-shirts. When we anchored for an evening in the Great Barrier Reef, they provided a whole tropical paradise setting with a giant floating fountain in the pool, palm trees, and music. That evening was capped off by the arrival of dozens of migrating birds who mistook the ship for an island; they perched all over the top of the Sun Deck. Services The Tour Director (called Port Director on most ships) provided us with lectures on every port that included a bit of history with practical information such as docking location, transportation, sights, etc. I really appreciated the fact we did not get the awful "shopping talks" you get on many ships that do nothing but point you to the nearest jewelry store. In addition to the lectures, he would have desk hours each at-sea evening and he was dockside on port days where he would answer questions (or try to). The one frustration here was that on occasion I would be told that this was a new port for them and so they were unable to answer my question. This same thing would happen with the Front Desk; one would refer you to the other, or to Shore Excursions, and back again. There were a few ports where I had more information than they did. I do not believe that a port being new to the ship should ever been an excuse for the staff not having done their homework. The Volendam had the usual spa and beauty salon offerings but I did not make use of any of them. Personally I love massages but I do not enjoy the high-pressure sales pitch for over-priced spa items that always seems to accompany any service provided so I stopped using and on-board spa years ago. The Photography Department was quite active on this cruise. They provided the usual port disembark "mug shots," but they were not pushy about it as they are on some cruise lines. The prices for individual pictures, though, were too high I thought so I never bought any. They also offered passengers a chance to create their own book combining pictures of themselves with stock cruise photos. What really appreciated was that in every port they sent photographers and videographers on shore, and from their material they created a two-disk DVD of our cruise. Since my husband had not been able to come with me on this cruise, this DVD has given him a chance to vicariously experience many of the sights I saw. There was the usual selection of shops, with emphasis on jewelry, and the art auctions. The Front Desk offered currency exchange at a reasonable rate and also sold local stamps which were convenient. There were just a few children on board and the Volendam does have a Club Hal/Oasis for them to take advantage of. Entertainment The Frans Hal Lounge offered the usual evening entertainment series, but I never attended. This was a long cruise so a variety of entertainers were rotated through from various ports plus the ship had its own traveling troupe of entertainers. I did, however, attended the two special shows we had with locals. At Hobart the Royal Tasmanian Police Band came on board for a very rousing performance accompanied by some young local Celtic dancers. And in Cairns we had a local aboriginal provide a demonstration of the didgeridoo. I did attend the movies quite often and delighted by seeing a number of quite recent films. Popcorn was provided but they always ran out. The theatre seating was all on one level so many folks came early to fight for the few seats with unobstructed views. Each cabin also had a DVD player attached to the television and DVDs were available for checkout at the Front Desk. Shore Excursions Our first day on board found our Shore Excursion manager, Kevin, running ragged as the ship had just found out we would not be able to visit our second scheduled port of Bateman's Bay due to a problem sand bar. Within 48 hours Kevin managed to completely organize all new shore excursions for the new and very small port of Eden—quite a feat. However, all was not perfect with the Shore Excursion department. Another of our planned ports was Exmouth, a very small town in western Australia, for which pre-booked shore excursions filled very rapidly online. I, happily, got the one I wanted (Glass-bottom Boat Reef Cruise) —or so I thought. Apparently there was some computer glitch along the way and some bookings, mine included, were lost. Even though I had written confirmation of my booking in hand they refused to honor it; instead I was put on a waiting list. And to top that off the staff person (not Kevin) was very rude about the situation. I eventually got another, less attractive time slot for the same tour, but that was due to the fact that they pressured the provider into adding several more trips that same day. The upshot of these additions, however, was that the trip was shortened and we did not get to venture very far from shore. Folks who just went ashore on their own found an independent tour operator who gave them a fantastic trip which was longer and for less money. Note: Individual Port and Tour information given at end of review Disembarkation Since I was flying straight home after the cruise, I had arranged in advance to use the ship's transfer to the airport as this meant I did not have to find my bags in the huge pile in the cruise terminal and then haul them to a taxi or whatever. That part worked well as I walked straight off the ship at my designated time and straight onto the bus. However, when we got to the airport our driver had no idea where our bags were located as they had been shipped earlier by truck. There really should have been a HAL representative at the drop off location at the airport to provide directions. Eventually someone found another passenger with HAL tags on his suitcase and he pointed us to the far end of the terminal. Once there we waited in line to retrieve our bags only to discover there were no bag carts available there; they were back on the outside sidewalk where we were dropped off. Again having a representative there to let us know to take a cart with us would have helped greatly. Then came the wait. Even though my flight was not until 2:30 am I had been given a disembarkation time of 8:00 am. At Sydney the check-in counters do not open until 3 or 4 hours before flight time; in my case it was due to open at 10:50 am. Fortunately I had printed out a terminal map in advance and was able to find the small food court (with Starbucks!) that was hidden away behind the check-in area. Sydney is a very large and busy airport and the lines were long. Thank goodness for my elite status as United's Premier line was much shorter than even the First/Business class line. Once through security I was able to enjoy the Air New Zealand Star Alliance Lounge which offered recliners and hot food as well as an open bar. From there it was smooth flying home via San Francisco. Just a note for future cruisers: 200 of our lucky passengers who remaining on board to continue on to Vancouver were dismayed to discover that they had to report to immigration on the afternoon of disembarkation day along with the newly arriving passengers to be cleared for the continuing voyage. Some had planned overnight trips out of Sydney and had to cancel at the last minute as this requirement was not announced until our disembarkation talk the day before arriving in Sydney. Summary Holland America is a wonderful cruise line with large comfortable cabins, good food, interesting enrichment programs, and, for the most part, a nice older, educated clientele. And this particular itinerary was fantastic! It was the best introduction to a vast country as you can imagine. To have done this itinerary by land would have entailed several plane flights and long rental car drives. That said, however, I simply can no longer tolerate HAL's outdated smoking policy which allows smoking in all the cabins and on verandahs. This policy presents both health and fire hazards for everyone on board. Because of my experience on this cruise, my husband and I cancelled our other Holland America booking for later this year. Instead we've booked a similar cruise with Oceania although, unfortunately it is costing us quite a bit more as we lost any early booking discount as well as our on board credit. If HAL ever decides to change their policy, we will be back because we really do love the cruise line. ____________________________________________________________________________ Ports of Call Newcastle, NSW: Newcastle, formerly just a coal and industrial town, is re-inventing itself as a tourist attraction. We docked at the commercial port and were tendered across the Hunter River to the town dock from where you could easily walk or take one of the shuttle buses provided by the town and staffed by wonderful local volunteers who pointed out the sights along the way to three different drop-of points. Avis provided last minute car rentals right at the dock. With a heritage walking map downloaded from the tourism website, I enjoyed the morning walking out the spit to the lighthouse and then around the fort and into the town center where I took advantage of a nice bakery cafe. Many passengers, however, headed directly for the Hunter Valley wine region either with the ship's excursion or on their own. As an extra treat as we sailed out of the harbor at sunset the old fort saluted us with three cannon shots. Eden, NSW: "The little town and could—and did!" This port was a last minute substitute for Bateman's Bay with its navigational issues. With just 48 hours notice, they provided us with several shore excursions and organized a little open market/fair on the green for us. I took the tour to Ben Boyd National Park where we had a couple of nice walks, one out to the point. We did not see as much wildlife as I hoped in the park, but first time Australia visitors got a kick out of seeing a mob of kangaroos on the golf course as we headed out of town. On the way back the driver took by past a beautiful beach with dolphins playing in the water; I elected to get off here and then just walk over the hill into town. In town the center of attraction is the Killer Whale Museum which many passengers visited before walking down a winding path back to our tender dock. Port Arthur, Tasmania: This was a half-day stop offering tender service into the historical park; passengers had to pay the park fee if going ashore or be on a shore excursion. Since I had visited the park before I elected to stay on board but I do highly recommend taking a tour as it's the best glimpse of Australia's beginnings as a penal colony available today. Hobart, Tasmania: We were docked right in town from late-afternoon one day until midnight the next. I had visited Hobart the year before so I knew right where to head first—Salamanca Square which is lined with cafes and small shops. Unfortunately we were not there on a Saturday so we missed the famous open market. Several excursions were offered and I selected the one scheduled to visit New Norfolk, Russell Falls, a winery, and Bonorong Wildlife Park—all sights I had not seen the previous year. The tour turned out to be long drives with rushed stops and an awful lunch. We never stopped in New Norfolk but went to Richmond instead; it's a beautiful historic town with wonderful shops but I had been there before. At Russell Falls we were told it was a ten-minute walk and we only had 25 minutes there. It was a beautiful location that deserved far more time and many of our passengers simply could not walk that fast. For lunch we visited a winery where there was a tasting session (but I don't drink alcohol) and that was followed by a lunch of oysters, sausage, assorted raw vegetables, and dry, tasteless brownies. Another guest next to me and I just had bread and butter—that was it. From there we went to a small wildlife park which was very nice; you could hand feed the kangaroos and get up close to Tasmanian Devils and wombats. Melbourne, Victoria: Australia's "second city" but my (and many Aussies') favorite. We docked out at Port Melbourne where you can usually catch a tram into town. However, due to a traffic accident in town the tram was down for the morning. A few last minute shuttle buses were found to take us to a drop off point at the Southbank Arts Centre in town, and by mid-afternoon the trams were working again. Melbourne offers wonderful museums, parks, shopping and food so it was easy to do this city on your own. The city provides a free City Circle Tram hitting most of the sights including the famed (and huge) Victoria Market. If you wanted to venture outside of town you needed a rental car or to take one of the shore excursions as it was Sunday and train/transit options were not that frequent. I spent the day in town visiting my favorite chocolate shops, the Sunday arts market, and a Thai Festival being held in Federation Square. Adelaide, SA: Adelaide strikes that unusual combination of a bit of Old West with multi-cultural enclave into a small city surrounded by parks, museums, and universities. You can have huge grilled stakes in a heritage saloon than walk a block for authentic Chinese food. This city also provides a free circular bus for getting around, but the port is located a good distance outside of town and on our visit the usual train out there was undergoing track work. The ship offered a paid shuttle bus for those passengers not on shore excursions. Having spent time exploring the city the year before, I selected the Hahndorf tour. Hahndorf was one of several German settlements founded in the 19th century in the hills above Adelaide. Unfortunately our visit was a bit rushed as our guide insisted we drive around the city quite a bit before heading up into the hills. I wish the port area had rental car facilities as this would have been a much better option. Esperance, WA: What a paradise, even if the weather did not quite cooperate. It's a little difficult to fully enjoy pure white sugar sand and gorgeous turquoise water with lightning bolts all around. This was another of our wonderful small town ports, but our only docking option was the commercial port where we were required to take a shuttle bus from shipside a short distance to the town beach park—no walking in the port was allowed. I had pre-reserved a rental car with Avis but had to fight the crowd of "claim jumpers "in the tiny office to get my car. Once on the road we headed out to Cape Le Grand National Park where we encountered said lightning bolts and incredible scenery. On the road in we saw wild emus and kangaroos. Since we cut the park visit short we took in the Ocean Road drive suggested by the tourism website taking us past Pink Lake and the beautiful wild coast land on the other side of town. Many passengers took advantage of the ship's cruises out to Woody Island in the RecherchE Archipelago for wildlife viewing. Albany, WA: This was a tender port and a slightly larger town than Esperance with a few small historical buildings and museums; it's an old well-known whaling port. I elected to take the Billabong Track excursion which was described as a 5 km walk along the famed track that eventually goes all the way to the west coast. I was a bit disappointed as the walk turned out to be a 2.5 roundtrip and we had those pesky non-stop talkers which meant bird watching and listening to the crashing waves was difficult. Had I known I would have rented a car and done it on my own, but I thought I'd get a longer walk if we were dropped off in one location and picked up in another. Fremantle, WA: Back to the "big city" feel. Fremantle is the port gateway to Perth, Australia's only large western city; it appears in the glimmering distance almost like the city of OZ. We were docked on the edge of town where one could easily hop on the FreeCat shuttle bus into and around Fremantle. Downtown Fremantle is filled with cafes, bars, and shops; we arrived on a Sunday evening and it was hopping. For those who wanted to head into Perth the train station was a short walk from the cruise terminal and commuter trains left at regular intervals. Also within walking distance was the ferry to Rottnest Island (or Rat Nest as named by the Dutch for the unusually large rodents living there). Being an animal nut, of course I had to go. The quokkas are, in fact, not rodents but related to the other marsupials; they are cute and exist nowhere else in the world. The Rottnest ferry docks right in the village where you can catch the paid Bayseeker bus which circles the island delivering snorkelers, surfers, and hikers to various bays and inlets. As an alternative you can take a wildlife cruise or hire a bike for exploring the island. I elected to take advantage of one of the free historical walking tours offered by volunteers from the old Salt Store. Geraldton, WA: Now we are beginning to get the "outback" feel, although Geraldton itself is a good-sized town and was an important military base during World War II. This was a tender port and the various rental car agencies in town provided shuttles, although there were far too many people to fit and it was chaotic. A bright spot at the dock was a visit by a wonderful local woman and her golden retriever for whom all pet-starved passengers made a beeline. She said she always brings him down to the dock when a cruise ship appears and he loves all the attention. Once I had my rental car and all my passengers we headed north to Oakabella Homestead only to discover the ship had a "lock" on the place for the whole morning and the owner wanted to charge us $50 a head for morning tea and a tour! Since the ship's excursion bus had not arrived yet, we asked permission to walk around for a few minutes to take pictures and then we left. From there we continued north to the small town of Northampton where we had our much cheaper "tea" at a local cafe and walked around the historic church and other buildings. Coming out of the post office I encountered a local man who asked if we were from the ship (it had been the lead story on the radio news that morning); he then told me about his life growing up in the area and actually knowing Monsignor Hawes who designed and help build the church here as well as the cathedral back in Geraldton. Had I the time I think he would have talked all day. That's what I really love about Australia—the people who are just so open and caring. After Northampton we headed south past Geraldton to the historic settlement of Greenough with its wonderfully preserved buildings. We would have gone to the Hotel for refreshment but we saw the ship's bus just headed there and didn't want to discover we were shut out again. With the heat close to 100 degrees we headed back to town and the ship. Exmouth, WA: Our smallest and most remote Australian port proved both a disappointment and a small joy. We tendered into a small marina outside of the town center; a few shuttle buses were available. This was the port where the "computer glitch" screwed up the shore excursion pre-bookings. Originally there were only a couple of glass-bottom boat cruise times for the Ningaloo Reef available and they filled quickly. However, due to passenger demand the ship pressured the company to offer several more sailings. As a result our cruise time was shortened (but not the price) so we barely moved away from our beach embarkation point and that, combined with the fact it was coral "spawning" season, meant we saw very little and photography was impossible. Some other passengers got the opportunity to snorkel with whale sharks and others went four-wheeling through the national park area. Learning about the town of Exmouth which had been created to service a massive military radar installation and an air base was quite interesting. As with Eden a few town folk brought out arts and craft tables to supplement what the few stores had to offer. But for me the highlight was a local wildlife rescue group who brought along two joeys (baby kangaroos) which we allowed to hold while they took our picture. Komodo Island, Indonesia: What an Easter morning to awaken in a small bay surrounded by palm-filled islands and pink and gold clouds sliced by a vertical rainbow! The entire island is a controlled national park and passengers were only allowed ashore if they were on a shore excursion or had made special arrangements in advance with the rangers and had written proof of that arrangement. As our tenders were being readied you could watch nearby islanders arriving in their small boats to set up shop for all the potential customers; lots of carved dragons, post cards, and jewelry would be available after our tours. We were met at the tender dock by our guides and handlers (two for each group with long sticks to "manage" any dragons that came too close). We walked a fairly level and not very long trail while our guide talked about the flora and fauna of the island. Half way along two rangers had rounded up a large dragon for us to observe and later back in the small camp area two smaller dragons made their appearance. One got a little excited about all the potential "fresh meat" around and started to charge us but was corralled by our keepers—one reason why all were counseled to never wander off. On backing up from our charging dragon we ended sheltered under a tree until one of the villagers cautioned us as there were two small snakes wound in the branches. A later shore ex group got to watch a feeding session while the independent tour members went on much longer walks to and saw much more wildlife. Darwin, NT: We arrived amid a cracking thunder storm and drenching rain; it was definitely still "The Wet" up north. We were held on the ship until it was decided if and when various shore excursions would be able to go. I was booked on the longest one, Litchfield National Park, so I was worried, but the Captain eventually agreed to stay in port longer and we left an hour late. We saw no rain the rest of the day. This shore excursion turned out to be another of those "too-long rides/too-short stop" trips and I regretted going. Although the waterfalls were beautiful, we were not allowed to swim in the pools due to seasonal issues in some and not enough time at the one open pool which was a disappointment. I wish I had either rented a car or just stayed in town which was reachable on a longish walk or by shuttle from the pier. Cairns, Queensland: The ship docked right in town. The terminal parking area was under renovation so you had to walk out to the street to get a taxi as pick-ups dockside were not allowed. I had signed up for the Kuranda Experience tour as the guidebooks said that was the best one-day trip. However, heavy rains a few weeks earlier had wiped out part of the rail tracks and the trip was cancelled. Eventually the ship put together a substitute trip using a bus but many of us elected to just go on our own. Several of us got together and took taxis up to the cable car station which cost $23 per taxi; later we learned that there was an express city bus from town that was a much cheaper option. I'm glad we went very early as by the time the cable car opened the line was huge. The cable car offers the option of two mid-way rainforest station stops on the way up to Kuranda. Each stop has displays and a short boardwalk trail. From the Kuranda station you can walk directly into town or follow both the river walk and/or jungle walks. A more challenging hike to the falls is an additional choice. I did both walks in a little over an hour and finished with a short uphill walk into town for lunch and leisurely shopping. Kuranda is designed for tourists with souvenirs, art galleries, and cafes everywhere. From Kuranda I was able to catch one of the $4 buses back to town. I was very glad to have done this trip on my own; many of the passengers who took the substitute shore ex complained they only had 45 minutes at Kuranda. Back in town it was HOT but I did a few errands and then headed back to the nice air conditioned ship. Many other passengers did reef snorkeling/diving trips at this port and they enjoyed the experience tremendously. Townsville, Queensland: Townsville has two cruise ship docking locations, one near town and the Sun Ferries pier and the other in the commercial port; we ended up in the commercial port. The ship offered a paid shuttle to town and there were taxis available dockside. I had originally planned to take the ferry to Magnetic Island for the day but got talked into going with some other CCr's to the Billabong Sanctuary. We were going to rent a car but discovered they were only available at the airport on a Sunday and there was no shuttle, so we booked private transport through a local tour company (Abacus) recommended by the Sanctuary. They were late picking us up (they also run airport shuttles) and there was no shade at the pier so we were really hot. But the park was quite nice and we had the opportunity (for money) to have our picture taken with a koala, a wombat, or a crocodile and snake—I opted for fur and the wombat photo is my favorite of the whole cruise. Even though we were late arriving we had more than enough time here and we were glad of the covered porch and snack bar to kill time until our return pick-up. Hamilton Island, Queensland: We anchored among the Whitsunday Islands and tenders were provided to Hamilton, a resort island with a small tourist town. I had pre-booked the Knuckle Reef tour and was looking forward to my first-ever snorkeling experience as I had read that this particular company handled beginners well. Unfortunately this was another tour where the ship pressured the company into taking more than the usual number and we ended up on a long, crowded boat ride without even enough seats for everyone; it was 2 ½ hours each way to the reef. One treat on the boat, however, was an onboard masseuse. For $40 I got a 20-minute wonderful back & neck massage, but it's not for the shy as this was done right in the middle on the lounge with just a towel as front cover! When all our passengers descended on the pontoon we were given the options of a free semi-submersible and/or glass-bottom boat ride in addition to snorkeling or diving. Because of the size of the crowd the boat rides were shortened (again!). Consensus among passengers seemed to be that the glass-bottom boat was the better choice. Beginning snorkelers were offered a paid class but I opted to try it on my own with mixed results. The company provided all the supplies: stinger suits, masks, fins, and float vests—I think I looked like a short colorful whale after being fully suited up. There were two roped-off areas for snorkeling and steps down to platforms for easy entry (easy that is unless you've never worn fins before). As suggested I used the rope as guideline as I was off—what a wonderful experience. There was a small rescue boat in each area in case you got into trouble as well as look-outs on the pontoon. The paid class group got to go off in a separate area and had much better sightings so I would recommend this option. Lunch was served buffet style upon arrival. The staff at the pontoon was absolutely great; I would highly recommend this tour. We only ending up having about 2 ½ hours out on the pontoon although our tour description said at least 3 hours; I imagine this was due to the greater numbers and longer load time at the ship. Brisbane, Queensland: We were docked downriver from town but within walking distance of the Brett Wharf CityCat ferry which many of us utilized for transport. Again the ship provided a paid shuttle bus service. Originally I had planned to go to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary with another CCr but she could not go so I took the ferry downtown and elected to take the Hop-On/Hop-Off bus which gave me an inexpensive narrated city tour as well as the chance to stop at the Botanic Gardens for a walk before returning to town where I found a wonderful farmers market in progress. I had planned to visit some aboriginal galleries but the addresses the guide book had provided all turned out not to be extant any more. No worries. By this time of the cruise we were all pretty tired and many of us returned mid-afternoon by ferry to the ship. Sydney, NSW: "Home" again after traveling a total amazing 8,136 nautical miles! Our itinerary gave us a full day and overnight here before disembarkation. Sydney really is a city to see on your own; there is no need for a shore excursion, especially since we docked this time right in Circular Quay at The Rocks historical district. Within a very short walking distance you have access to Sydney's ferries and the train. Sydney Explorer buses provide two different tour circuits and your all-day pass is good on either or both; there are very few sights that are not located at one of their many stops. Directly across from our dock was the famed Sydney Opera House where you can purchase a one-hour tour for $34 or check to see if tickets are available for any of the performance spaces (drama, ballet, opera, or symphony). In addition to the Opera House tour, I spent the morning doing last minute shopping, walking around the city, and visiting the Art Gallery, which was bit disappointing; I thought the museums in Melbourne and Adelaide much better. After packing that evening, I went to sleep with the lights of the harbor and Opera House framed in my cabin window. What a nice ending. Read Less
Sail Date March 2010
The Volendam was chartered on this cruise by Atlantis Events, a US based gay and lesbian travel operator, and timed to arrive in Sydney on the day of the Mardi Gras parade. Accordingly, I haven't included any comments about ... Read More
The Volendam was chartered on this cruise by Atlantis Events, a US based gay and lesbian travel operator, and timed to arrive in Sydney on the day of the Mardi Gras parade. Accordingly, I haven't included any comments about entertainment as this was specific to this cruise. Summary: an acceptable 4 star experience (even though my comments below look more critical than that) but overpriced for what it delivered. Cabin: we had a verandah cabin. It was spacious. It was well kept, though clearly showing signs of age. It must be said that the ship needs a refurbishment. This is not to say that the cabin was unpleasant, however for the price (USD$3,350 per person plus the USD$11 per day per person service charge) it did not present good value or an exceptional experience. Pools and other common areas: the pools were small but ok. Again, the areas needed refurbishment. The Explorer's Cafe area and the Crows Nest were very nice spaces. Dining: the main restaurant (the Rotterdam) was efficiently run. The food was of average to good quality and perfectly acceptable for a facility that serves many people per sitting. It was open dining and there was never a wait for a table. The Lido buffet was unexceptional but well run with good food choices. The Pinnacle Restaurant: we thought that this experience was not much superior to the main dining room. The best feature was that it was small and quiet with good (but, it must be said, over attentive) service. The food varied from virtually inedible (yes, really) in the form of the small taster of ravioli which was first offered, to bland (tasteless prawn/shrimp cocktail) to very good (filet mignon, although cooked extremely rare rather than the medium rare ordered) and a dessert souffle. I wasn't expecting anything out of the box and in that respect the restaurant was no great surprise. Although only a small charge (USD$20 per person), in my view not worth a visit. Service standards in the shop generally : friendly but no effort to deliver any more than a basic pleasant service. Ports: Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and Melbourne. Had a great time in each because we made our own arrangements (ship organised excursions were ridiculously overpriced). In Christchurch and Dunedin we hired a car and headed out of town to some wonderful scenery. Read Less
Sail Date February 2010
I will not go into too much detail, just list the likes and dislikes and overall opinion of the ship. Embarkation & disembarkation is one thing that HAL do very well. Always quick and well organised. Only negative, they need more signs ... Read More
I will not go into too much detail, just list the likes and dislikes and overall opinion of the ship. Embarkation & disembarkation is one thing that HAL do very well. Always quick and well organised. Only negative, they need more signs in Auckland so you know exactly where to go. The Volendam has everything you need but is starting to look a bit tired in places. A huge amount of restaurants to choose from, pools, theatre (movies) and then the show lounge. 75% of people on the ship where 70yrs and over (or the was a few families) which was a surprise to us. Not too many couples in the 40's etc. Food was good but not great. A bit bland sometimes. Probably aiming at the older age group. We requested the late siting on table of 8 but one the first night had the early sitting for just us (we travelled with another couple). HAL did what the could to accommodate us at the late siting afterwards but we only had the table so us. HAL offer great laundry packages on this cruise. US99 for unlimited laundry & US35 for unlimited pressing. Great having to not worry about it. Alcohol is around normal cruise prices. You can purchase beer & wine at port as long as you consume in your cabin. Corkage for a bottle of wine in restaurants was US20 per bottle which was still okay as we picked up some fantastic 2006 bottles in Napier. Day tours - I highly recommend people to do some research of their own and book private tours or tours independantly. For 1/2 to 2/3's of the price of what HAL was offering on their tours, we did a fantastic tours, especially Napier for just the two of us in a private sedan with driver/guide. We highly recommend Hawkes Bay Scenic Tours Ltd with John & Margaret Halon. They will come and pick you up from the ship and the tour can be flexible if you are on your own. Also car hire in NZ or Tasmania is greatly recommended if you are independant travellers as the roads are easy to follow. One word of advice though - book ahead and don't just rock up hoping to get car hire. Most are always booked out in advance. Staff - amazing. The always went out of their way to make sure your trip was enjoyable as always ie: Our cabin was a outside porthole, lower deck up front. We had a anchor banging against the ship for most of the trip & in really rough seas, furniture was moving underneath us. The staff gave us an extra cabin to use for sleeping for a few nights through the rough seas from NZ to Tasmania. I do not recommend this cabin to anyone and will ensure in future we are never of the lower deck again. As I said staff were great and what shocked us was how so many rude people try to go out of their way to belittle them. They somehow deal with it. I know I couldn't and I take my hat off to them. Overall experience was good but not great but if you are in the older age group, I am sure you will have the time of your life. Read Less
Sail Date December 2009
My husband and I are seasoned cruisers and we aim to cross as many major lines of latitude and longitude on a ship as possible, so we were excited by this one as it meant crossing the International Date Line and indeed (from leaving home ... Read More
My husband and I are seasoned cruisers and we aim to cross as many major lines of latitude and longitude on a ship as possible, so we were excited by this one as it meant crossing the International Date Line and indeed (from leaving home in the UK to arriving back) circumnavigating the globe. Whilst this was our 23rd cruise it was our first time with Holland America Line. The embarkation process at Seattle was very efficient and streamlined, and we boarded in time for a buffet lunch in the Lido restaurant which we ate by the pool - a place we were to frequent regularly. Our cabin was a twin-bedded one on the Main Deck (Deck 2) right at the starboard bow of the vessel. It was very quiet and comfortable and we were served by Choky, our very pleasant Indonesian cabin steward. Our first impressions of Holland America's "signature of excellence" were not brilliant. On the first night the service in the Rotterdam Dining Room was extremely slow (we still hadn't finished after two hours at the table) and, for the first three nights, our waiter either forgot to bring courses or brought the wrong thing. This rapidly improved, however, once one of the ship's officers joined our table for dinner. Also, for the first night the cabin steward did not do the evening "turn down" in our cabin, although to be fair this was the only time he forgot and the rest of the voyage the service was impeccable. The quality, selections and presentation of the food I found to be excellent. Also the selection and range of drinks and cocktails, although I did find the bar prices to be extortionate compared to say, P & O or Fred Olsen. I found the evening entertainment in the Frans Hals showlounge to be pretty average. The show company was good but nothing exceptional. The guest performers were aimed more at the 60+ age group; there was a bloke who played the clarinet (who was pretty good), a fairly run-of-the-mill female singer, a cellist (boring) a pianist (who was good) a comedian (good if you could understand the transatlantic humour!) and a pretty average magician. We spent nearly all our evenings, after dinner, in the Crow's Nest, which was the ship's version of a night club. It offered discos, karaoke on some nights, dancing, live music and sometimes a Wii challenge! :-) The cruise director, Jimmy and the DJ/compere, Drew were really friendly guys who we got to know quite well as we were "regulars" in the Crow's Nest. It takes nine full days and nights to cross the Pacific ocean so it certainly isn't recommended for first time cruisers or those who don't like to spend a lot of time at sea. It can also be very disorientating as, for the first 10 days of our trip, we were never in the same time zone two days running. It was a strange phenomenon completely missing out a day when we crossed the International Date Line, for which we received a certificate. Also, the north Pacific ocean is certainly not aptly named as we encountered winds between Force 8 and Force 10, and sometimes a 12 foot swell, so it was fairly rough. All part of the adventure though! Once we reached Japan we visited Hakodate, Otaru, Aomori and Kobe. We had originally planned an overnight-in-port stay at Yokahama in order to explore Tokyo, but as this was right in the path of Hurricane Melor this port of call was, unfortunately, cancelled and the ship changed course. However, the ports of call were very interesting and Kobe was a fantastic city; it's amazing to see how they have built it up again after the dreadful 1995 earthquake. All in all, we had a really good time and would probably cruise with HAL again if the itinerary was to our liking. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
This was my 12th cruise. I chose it as it was advertised as a Transpacific to Japan cruise. Originally it was to cruise the Aleutians and a stop in Russia, but neither happened. Many passengers did not hear of the changes and were ... Read More
This was my 12th cruise. I chose it as it was advertised as a Transpacific to Japan cruise. Originally it was to cruise the Aleutians and a stop in Russia, but neither happened. Many passengers did not hear of the changes and were disappointed. Cabin: the cabin was very attractive and had enough room for a sofa for two. Though we had an inside cabin we did not feel claustrophobic. Food: Variable, from bad to mostly good. The pastry choices were excellent. I would rate the food as cruise fare. The average person will love it, but foodies will be disappointed. The wine steward was aggressive, trying to sell wine by the bottle rather than by the glass. Entertainment: Standard for cruises. The dancers were very good and some of them were obviously very enthusiastic. The person in the light booth could not keep his hands off of the lighting which at time was distracting. More than once spot lights were shone in the audiences faces. At times it distracted from the dancers and singers. Shore Excursions: were very expensive, a big complaint with many passengers. The cities visited had a lot to offer for those who wanted to do their own tour. Ports: We stopped at Hakodate, Otaru, Kobe and Aomori Japan. These are not ports usually visited and are good stops for a day. Season: We were traveling in typhoon season, and were lucky enough to be able to go around one. Because of the typhoon diversion we missed the port of Yokohama and arrived in Kobe one day early. Water: rough 7 out of 8 days on the trans Pacific portion. Embarkation: Vancouver, BC, Canada was the embarkation port and is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. A couple of days before the cruise would not be time wasted there. It took 30 minutes for embarkation. A very large ship was accepting passengers at the same time at the terminal which may have made the process slower for us. Passengers: This was the oldest and most physically challenged group I have ever seen on a cruise. For our group of 60 we had a need for 8 wheelchairs. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
Volendam Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 3.5 4.0
Dining 4.0 4.0
Entertainment 3.5 3.5
Public Rooms 4.0 4.2
Fitness Recreation 4.5 3.8
Family 3.5 3.8
Shore Excursion 4.0 3.5
Enrichment 5.0 3.5
Service 5.0 4.3
Value For Money 4.0 3.8
Rates 4.0 3.9

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